Android Tablet Sales

It’s been a great meme in 2011 that Android tablets are selling a tiny fraction of what iPad is. And the conventional explanations mostly seem to be along the lines of “Android can’t compete. ” So here is a different take.

It IS difficult to compete head on with both the iPad and iPhone, because they are really good at what they do. But I think the main reason Android is out-selling iPhone (in phones) is choice. The iPhone is resolutely one size fits all; the gospel of Jobs says that it’s the perfect form factor. If you agree, then the iPhone is a great handset for you – but if you don’t, there are a hundred Android handsets offering you alternatives. Bigger screens, hardware keyboards, lower price points, unusual form factors, dedicated Facebook buttons, you name it. Not to mention choice in carriers, something the iPhone is only recently improving on.

OTOH, the first wave of Honeycomb tablets were all aimed directly at the iPad’s form factor and, if you were lucky, the iPad’s price point. So then Joe Customer walked into a shop, looking to buy an iPad (because of Apple advertising, and because his friends had iPads). And he saw what amounted to this: the iPad, and a bunch of iPad wannabes – with all the wannabes costing as much, or more. Which do you think he’s going to buy?

But change is coming, and it will come when Android tablets offer real choices. Hardware keyboards, unusual form factors. Lower price points – and not just due to cheaper construction, but due to different value propositions.

And of course, different screen sizes, probably the most obvious differentiator of all. Sure, Android has had 7″ options from the start – but until recently, these have fallen into two groups. There were the bottom-feeders whose low quality was evident the moment you picked one up. And then there were the big-name entries, like the original Samsung Tab and the HTC Flyer; fine tablets in their own right, but again, costing at least as much as an iPad. And that’s a really tough sell. Unless you really want a smaller tab, why NOT buy the one that gives you twice as much screen real estate for the same price?

But again, the landscape is shifting. In addition to the hybrid reader-tabs, the Flyer has dropped a bit in price, and Samsung is back in the ring with second-gen tabs that undercut the iPad in both size and cost. And other contenders are coming up as well.

And what about LARGER screens? How long until we see an Android tablet with an 11″ screen, or 12″? Samsung seems the obvious candidate here with 4 different sizes of Tab already, plus the 5″ pseudo-tablet Note. What are the chances that they’ll repackage the excellent LCD from the Series 5 Chromebook into a Tab 12.1? It’s not clear that consumers want even bigger tablets, but it’s not clear that they don’t, either.

Asus is another manufacturer to watch, with their netbook heritage and their demonstrated willingness to take risks in the tablet space. They’re already becoming a front-runner with their acclaimed Transformer series; again, the key here is offering some variety in terms of form factor.

So from where I’m sitting, everyone proclaiming the death of the Android tablet is just way too early. Android tablets are where Android phones were in 2009 – remember that? When everyone was pronouncing how Android was a failure, simply because the G1 and original Droid weren’t “iPhone killers”? What a difference a year or two makes.

The Android tablet army is just beginning to come over the ridge. Patience, grasshopper.