Last year was the Year of the iPad, and I suspect 2012 will be too. The iPad train continues to gain momentum faster than any other product in tech history. Just take a ride on the train, wander around an airport or peek inside the bag of a student at university and there’s a good chance you’ll find an iPad.
As expected, the army of Android drones has responded in force, with the market now flooded with iPad- equivalent tablets running a version of Android nicknamed Honeycomb. Manufacturers like Motorola, Samsung, Toshiba and Acer have all released tablets that, on the surface, look exactly like the iPad.
On paper, analysts will tell you that these are competitive products. Wander in to a retailer and you might be conned into believing that you’ll be better off with one of the these tablets because they’ve got specs like‘dual- core processors’, SD card slots and the ever-important USB slot.
But there’s one thing that Android tablets don’t have, and it’s the main reason why the iPad has been a critical success. Android tablets don’t have much third-party software, and because of that they should be considered bricks rather than tablets.
It’s interesting to ponder the reasons why Android tablets haven’t excited developers the way the iPad has. It’s hard to know with any certainty, but my hunch is that Android developers don’t make anywhere near the money that iOS developers make, and so aren’t as excited about the financial prospects of writing tablet-only software.
Additionally, there’s a fragmentation problem that costs developers extra time and effort when building for Android apps. Lastly, it’s about track record. No manufacturer has come out and said that they’ve actually sold many tablets except for Apple. With a small installed base the prospects to make any money just don’t appear to be there.
Still, with all the evidence pointing to the fact that Android tablets just aren’t selling, analysts, retailers and advertisers would have you believe that the race is neck and neck.
John Gruber, who writes the popular Daring Fireball blog, published a piece in late November called ‘Fun With Numbers’ which pokes easy holes in a recent NPD report on the US tablet market.
For example, the report, which excluded iPads, came to this conclusion: “76 percent of consumers who purchased a non- Apple tablet didn’t even consider the iPad, an indication that a large group of consumers are looking for alternatives, and an opportunity for the rest of the market to grow their business.”
Gruber wrote: “That’s one way to put it. Another way is that 92 percent of US tablet buyers considered an iPad, and 89 percent bought an iPad, which means 97 percent of tablet buyers who merely considered an iPad bought an iPad, and if not for the 8 percent of tablet buyers who, for whatever reason, did not consider an iPad, none of these companies would have sold even 100,000 tablets over the first nine months of 2011.”
The tablet market isn’t the same as the smartphone market, where Android’s market share now dwarfs iOS. Buyers of tablets pay full price and buy their tablets outright, whereas most smartphone buyers (iPhones included) are given their devices free of charge as a swap for entering into a two-year contract with a telco.
We all know that signing a contract with a telco isn’t something one does with a smile on one’s face, and that’s why consumers are hesitant to enter into an additional contract for a tablet, given tablets are considered a luxury rather than a necessity.
So, what should we expect to see happen in 2012? My best guess is that it will look very similar to 2011. Apple will continue to sell iPads as fast as it can make them, and many analysts’ opinions will continue to be clouded by those who pay for their reports to be produced.