When it comes to smartphones, Android competes very well with the iPhone. In fact, I think it’s a much better experience, but when it comes to tablets, I hate to admit it, Android is losing. The problem has never been the hardware, it’s the availability of quality apps. Automatically the assumption is that fragmentation is the problem, but fragmentation is an issue with phones, and yet quality apps aren’t a major issue. so why hasn’t developer support transferred to tablets? Well lets first start with a little history.
Back in late 2009, Android phones seemed far behind the iPhone, but then things changed in a hurry. Even though Android’s first phone, the G1, was introduced in 2008, things didn’t get cooking until the DROID debuted on Verizon in late 2009. From that point forward the Android world really started to multiply by numbers even I couldn’t imagine. I remember when I bought my DROID, people would say there aren’t any apps available on Android to speak of. Things changed dramatically, and by the end of 2010, the iPhone didn’t have much of an advantage when it came to apps.
It doesn’t appear that Android tablets are enjoying the same kind of success. Although the Motorola XOOM, technically wasn’t the first Android tablet, it was what really started a wave of tablets with the OS about this time last year. One could argue that it’s only been one year, and look what happened to Android phones in its second year. The problem with that theory is that the success of Android phones was actually an advantage for tablets to get a better kick-start. Actually in terms of sales, Android isn’t doing so bad. According to the IDC, Android tablet market share for the 4th quarter of 2011 was 44.6%. That’s actually very good, but somehow things don’t seem that close.
Android tablets have always been able to compete with the iPad when it came to specs. The ASUS Transformer Prime was the first ever tablet with a quad-core processor, and up until the new iPad, many Android tablets had better displays. Then there’s the different form factors and docks that seemed to give Android a leg up. Unfortunately it’s never the hardware that sells mainstream consumers. It’s the usability. Let’s face it, the iPad wins hands down in this category. PC Mag’s Sascha Segan recently did a fantastic analysis on the apps for both platforms. I’m actually glad he did because I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, but now I don’t have to put the work into figuring it all out. Actually Sascha found that although the iPad has an edge as far as number of gaming apps, overall, it’s not the number of apps that are lacking with Android tablets, its the quality. Many of the apps just look awful and dreadful on Android.
Even the Transformer Prime, which is currently the best Android tablet available in terms of specs, doesn’t have the developer support. It’s actually sad when you consider how awesome this device is. NVIDIA is pushing their Tegra Zone for optimized Tegra 3 games, but even after being out for 3 months, there really aren’t that many choices. ASUS isn’t selling anywhere near the number of Transformer Primes as compared to iPads, but it’s just as hard to get your hands on one. Hardcores are buying them up with the hope of playing amazing “console quality” games. Yes it’s only been 3 months, but lets see where things stand at the 6 month mark and at the end of the year. I still don’t think there will be that many more.
To answer the original question as to why developers aren’t supporting Android tablets, even though the same fragmentation exists with phones, it’s the fact that tablet growth is still in it’s infancy. The projected number of overall tablets to be sold in 2012 is roughly 106 miillion. For smartphones, it’s projected to be around 657 million. People keep preaching how large the tablet market is, but smartphones have six times more of a presence, and the time involved with creating worthwhile apps makes it more attractive.
Let’s talk about the compounding rate. In 2011, smartphone sales were roughly 459 million. If you add that figure to the 2012 estimate, it’s over 1 billion devices. For tablets, the overall sales for 2011 was 68 million. If you add that to 2012’s estimate of 106 million, you get a total of 174 million units. Now we are talking about eight times more of a presence for smartphones.
Now one has to ask why do developers support the iPad if the tablet market isn’t that big? It’s simple, the iPad is one device (with no fragmentation) that represents 60%+ of the market share or roughly 100 million tablets from 2011 and 2012. So why isn’t that an issue for phones since the iPhone represents about 30% of the overall smartphone sales or roughly 300 million for 2011 and 2012? Again an obvious answer. It’s because Android phones represent about 500 million units for the same two years. The work involved to create compelling apps is more worthwhile when looking at those numbers. Of course one could argue that Android developers are starting to get frustrated with Android fragmentation and are starting to give up, but seriously, it’s too big of a market to give up on.
There’s one other thing that needs to be factored into these numbers and that’s the fact that supposedly the Kindle Fire represented about 14% of the market share by the end of 2011, which would be part of Android’s tablet numbers above. Although technically an Android tablet, it just isn’t the same, and it’s just another example of fragmentation since it has its own ecosystem and app store. Assuming that percentage holds through 2012, that would knock down the rest of Android down to roughly 30%. Again not bad, but certainly doesn’t help the cause. In fact, if the Kindle Fire continues to grow, development for it might increase since again it’s one device and the economies of scale would make more sense for developers. How upset would Android fans be if the Kindle Fire has better apps than all other Android tabs?
The final question is if or when things will change? Perhaps 2012 will be the year for Android tablets much like 2010 was the year for Android phones, but I just don’t see it. Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to change things, but it’s barely on 2% of the devices. As overall tablet sales grow exponentially over the years, I suspect things will change, but will it be too late? I’m an Android fanatic and it’s in my blood, but when the average “Joe” asks me what tablet to get, I have a hard time recommending an Android tablet over an iPad. Just to give you a perspective of where I’m coming from, I own an ASUS Transformer and a Galaxy Nexus. I have never owned an iPad or an iPhone, and lastly, my wife has an iPad 2 because of work, but I have yet to even touch it. I admit it’s childish, but I refuse to. So I’m definitely not some Apple fanboy that’s stuck in the closet. Trust me, you can ask any of my friends and family, they will tell you that I’m a “hater.”
Android tablets are cool with the ability to customize it to your liking with widgets and live wallpapers, but again, the average person isn’t caught up with that. They just want something that will give them a great user experience. Unfortunately, and yes it pains me to say it, the iPad wins in this category at least for now.