It's Not Google's Fault That Android Tablets Have Failed

Android tablets have failed. Plain and simple. By just about any measure you can come up with, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) has been unsuccessful so far in translating its Android successes in the smartphone market to the tablet market.

The clear tablet king is Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad, which is selling like none other. While market researcher IDC thinks Android will eventually dethrone the iPad, I don't see how that can happen at this rate. The hardest part for Google to swallow is that it's not entirely its fault.

What else do you need?
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is a well-polished mobile operating system that is leagues ahead of its predecessor, 3.0 Honeycomb. Even Big G considered that version an "emergency landing" just to "get tablet support out there."

The company proliferates Android through a slew of hardware partners. Some of these inevitably produce pure junk, but other OEMs are crafting some very respectable devices with some powerful specs.

I found myself in a big-box retailer the other day playing with one of the best Android tablets out there: the Asus Transformer Prime. The tablet carries NVIDIA's (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) quad-core Tegra 3 and an 8-megapixel OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI  ) second-generation backside-illuminated image sensor -- one much better than the newest iPad's.

Less than meets the eye
The Transformer Prime is a solid offering that can give the iPad a run for its money in the spec department. It was the first time I'd handled one, and I was legitimately impressed.

An interesting tidbit that's come out of Hasbro's trademark infringement suit against Asus is that court filings show Asus had just 2,000 preorders for the device a month ago, with 80,000 more set for retail distribution around the world. Meanwhile, Apple just sold 3 million iPads in a weekend earlier this month.

So one of the best high-end Android tablets that money can buy is garnering sales on par with what amounts to a rounding error in iPad sales.

It has a competitive OS and nosebleed hardware, so why doesn't anyone want it?

Is there an app for that?
Platforms live or die by the content available on them. A TV is pretty useless if there's nothing to watch, and a high-end tablet similarly does you little good if there aren't quality apps to interact with. The problem with Android tablets is that developers haven't been optimizing their apps for the larger screens, so there's a lack of compelling content.

Apple CEO Tim Cook even discussed this during the new iPad unveiling. Most current Android tablet apps are simply smartphone apps that have been crudely scaled up to larger screen sizes but aren't designed specifically to take advantage of the extra real estate. He used the Yelp app as an example and compared it running on a Samsung Android tablet to the iPad.

Source: Apple iPad Keynote Presentation. Yelp app on Samsung Android tablet (top) vs. iPad (bottom).

Source: Apple iPad Keynote Presentation. Yelp app on Samsung Android tablet (top) vs. iPad (bottom).

PCMag even outlined this predicament in more detail recently, complete with some handy comparisons. The article notes that not all apps suffer from this fate, just that most of them do. Just having the majority of the content is enough to neuter the platform, though. Here's the eBay app comparison.

Source: PCMag. eBay app on Android (top) vs. iPad (bottom).

Source: PCMag. eBay app on Android (top) vs. iPad (bottom).

Interestingly, Apple provided additional motivation for developers to optimize tablet apps because its method of scaling up iPhone apps to fit the iPad was even cruder than Android's. The pixelated and enlarged versions looked so bad that developers would rather just make a specialized iPad version.

On the other hand, Android's resolution-independent approach let the apps look adequate enough, but it results in a disappointing experience.

More than likely, developers are just sick and tired of dealing with Android's fragmentation and don't want to put the time into optimizing apps for all the myriad of different hardware configurations that are out there, while iOS developers only have two potential iPad resolutions to work with (which are also easier to scale since the dimensions are doubled).

Two out of three ain't good enough
This is why Android tablets have underperformed. Even though the overall OS is solid and some of the hardware offerings are impressive, the native content is uninspiring. It's mostly the collective fault of developers for not sprucing up the ecosystem, but in fairness, Google didn't provide the proper incentives.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) is making a more coordinated approach with its upcoming Windows 8, which is why I think it will fare better. Not only does the OS look pretty slick, with hardware partners already lined up, but Mr. Softy is also aggressively courting developers. In contrast, Google provides the tools but passively sits back and hopes it happens.

It's not totally your fault, Google. But now it's Microsoft's turn to step up to the plate for a swing.

The iPad has started a revolution, but Apple is hardly the only winner. Some of the winners are hard to see because they're buried deep inside the gadgets. Check out this new special free report on "3 Hidden Winners of the iPhone, iPad, and Android Revolution" that names a handful of companies that provide the crucial components that these gadgets rely on. It's free.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of OmniVision Technologies and Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Hasbro, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and eBay, writing puts on eBay and NVIDIA, and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 31, 2012, at 10:17 PM, bradeoneill wrote:

    You are looking at this all wrong, The apple introduced tablets and got the customer comfortable with them as an entertainment device, Microsoft is going to make them a business tool, the integration with microsoft 8 between pcs and Tablets is fantastic, it departments are not going to suddenly switch over to macs, but they will probably integrate these spiffy new tablets once one that works with their machines is available.

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2012, at 3:24 AM, mesmd wrote:

    Ipads will continue to set the world's standard for user needs due to it's ease of use and best of class in the tablet space. It will improve any small imperfections with each upgrade to satisfy all classes of consumers from home toy gadgets to big business requirements.

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2012, at 4:21 PM, TMFNewCow wrote:

    Icecube, I'm still scratching my head on why you think I'm "bashing" OVTI, considering I own shares and called in incredibly cheap at $13 in other articles.

    The OVTI sensor in the Transformer Prime is much better than the iPad 3's.

    Foolishly confused,

    -- Evan

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2012, at 1:07 PM, YetAnotherNerd wrote:

    Wait, google creates an OS and dev environment that encourages devs to take a less than optimal view of tablet apps and it's the dev's fault and not googles that most of the tablet apps are less than optimal? Google got exactly what they asked for, and they still continue to push fragments as a very simple minded way of achieving this. Fragments only solves a small part of the problem and in typical google fashion, they throw a technology out there and let everyone else figure out how it might work (soon followed by a better technology, and so on).

    The problem that Android has on tablets is that the gestalt of the tablets are all wrong. If you do it by the numbers then the Android tablets should be right there with the iPad. However, pick one up and start to use it and starting from the OS all the way to individual apps, things just don't seem like someone really both cared and knew what they were doing (and no, it's NOT a technology problem).

  • Report this Comment On April 02, 2012, at 9:48 PM, H3D wrote:

    Who cares who's fault it is that Android tablets are crap? They're crap. End of story.

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