Being Bullish on Android Doesn't Mean Being Bearish on Apple

I wrote the intro to this story on an Android tablet, a 10.1-inch, Wi-Fi-only Samsung Galaxy model that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) gave away to 5,000 of us who attended this month's I/O developer conference. Actually, that's not quite right. I spoke the intro; Google's voice-recognition technology is accessible via the keyboard. It's an interesting feature that sets the device apart from, but doesn't make it better than, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPad.

That's what I've concluded after a week of testing. For all the talk that Android was sticking it to Apple's iOS -- and Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerry or Nokia's (NYSE: NOK  ) Symbian, for that matter -- I find that both operating environments do different things well. Here what works and what doesn't on Samsung's newest tab.

This robot is neither reader nor streamer
As with smartphones, it's the apps that add vibrancy to tablets, and the Android Market has plenty to choose from. Google said during I/O that more than 200,000 apps are available for download. App tracker AndroLib pegs the number at closer to 350,000. Both figures are impressive.

Yet because the pre-release Galaxy tab hasn't yet received "Honeycomb," version 3.1 of the edition of Android OS, key apps don't work on the device. The most glaring: Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) . I could download and install but not use the app on the Galaxy.

More troubling were Google's omissions. Neither Google Voice nor Google Books would download to the Samsung Tab. Neither had been updated to meet the Galaxy's functioning requirements (or vice versa -- it was difficult to tell). This is what users and developers mean when they say they're bothered by the Federated States of Android. Inconsistencies create incompatibilities, and incompatibility has a way of disappointing users.

Taking the long way around
To be fair, the Galaxy does allow for streaming and reading e-books. You'll just need other apps to get the job done. For streaming, Google prefers that tablet owners visit the movie-rental website it created. Most flicks can be had for $3.99 or less for a 24-hour rental. And thanks to YouTube, I had no trouble viewing Inside Job on both the tablet and my Mac. Netflix still delivers a better experience because of its recommendations engine and the way it adds placeholders for those of us who can't finish a flick in one sitting. Otherwise, I found no discernible differences.

For reading, I love what Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) has done with the Kindle app. In my experience, it's just as functional on the Galaxy as it is on an iPhone or iPad and has all the bells and whistles I would have hoped to see in a Google eBooks app, including the ability to bookmark, highlight, and add notes. More broadly, the app is reflective of what I believe is Amazon's strategy to bring order to a chaotic Android ecosystem.

Inside the life of a cross-OS user
Although the iPad might outshine the Galaxy in terms of beauty -- the iPad's bright screen is a noticeable differentiator when you compare the tablets side to side -- and in entertainment options, the Googly new tab offers me far more in the way of personal productivity.

My Gmail accounts and Google Calendar all work well on the Galaxy. Meebo, my cloud-based IM client, suffers some hiccups, but Evernote works great. So does Highrise, a cloud-based contact-management system from 37signals that I've come to love. Mix in tabbed browsing for quick access to research, Dropbox for file sharing across systems, and the Verizon-powered personal Wi-Fi hotspot that Google gave away at the conference, and I have all I need to work in the car line while waiting to pick my kids up from school.

Open mouth, feed beast
My Galaxy experience tells my inner investor two things. First, Android is a heckuva platform that, thanks to the cloud, has no trouble serving my needs as a Mac user. Call it disruptive interoperability. Just because I own and use Macs doesn't necessarily mean I'll eschew Android devices. The rise of the Internet gave similar life to Macs when Windows was at its peak.

Second, Web-based services are what make Google's mobile OS most useful. For this story, I used a combination of Android's pre-loaded QuickOffice Software, a Dropbox account, and Word on my Mac. No file transfers were required.

Of course, these aren't the only two factors that make Android interesting. Multitabbed browsing, true multitasking, and a speedy, customizable interface make the Galaxy and its Honeycombed peers attractive platforms for both users and developers.

But if you think about it, Google is getting the better end of this relationship. Think for a moment about how much value there is in the data that I'm feeding to Google. What is my browsing worth? My Gmail conversations? Each click feeds Google's data-hungry servers, the soldiers of its mobile empire. More data means more ads. And more ads mean more profit. Yeah, I got a free tab for attending I/O. Google is probably getting a whole lot more in return.

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The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended Apple, Netflix, Amazon.com, and Google and have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple and buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (2)

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 May 22, 2011, at 2:48 PM, deasystems wrote:

    “Google's voice-recognition technology is accessible via the keyboard.”

    And Nuance’s server-based (and very powerful--and free) Dragon Dictation is just a touch away on Apple’s iPad.

    “As with smartphones, it's the apps that add vibrancy to tablets, and the Android Market has plenty to choose from.”

    Thats a very misleading comment. There are currently fewer than 100 native applications available for Android-based tablets versus over 70,000 for Apple’s iPad.

    “...the Googly new tab offers me far more in the way of personal productivity. My Gmail accounts and Google Calendar...Meebo...Evernote...Highrise...tabbed browsing...Dropbox...and the Verizon-powered personal Wi-Fi hotspot...QuickOffice...true multitasking”

    Again, misleading: ALL of those are also available as native apps for the iPad. The iPad’s equivalent to tabbed browsing is Mobile Safari’s multi-window function. And the iPad does provide true multitasking for functions where it makes sense, e.g. music playback, GPS tracking, etc.

    On the other hand, I do agree with your point that if you use an Android-based device, Google is getting the better part of the deal: The prime directive of Android is to turn you into Google’s product so that information about you can be sold to Google’s customers, i.e. its advertisers.

  • Report this Comment On May 22, 2011, at 4:15 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    @deasystems,

    >>And Nuance’s server-based (and very powerful--and free) Dragon Dictation is just a touch away on Apple’s iPad.

    It's also a separate app, distinct from the document I'd like to write in. Not so on the Galaxy.

    >>There are currently fewer than 100 native applications available for Android-based tablets versus over 70,000 for Apple’s iPad.

    Moot. The Android apps I need still run on the tab, just as iPhone apps ran well on the first edition of the iPad.

    >>And the iPad does provide true multitasking for functions where it makes sense, e.g. music playback, GPS tracking, etc.

    Couldn't disagree more. "Where it makes sense?" How about everywhere? That's what Honeycomb offers.

    >>The iPad’s equivalent to tabbed browsing is Mobile Safari’s multi-window function.

    You're not really saying this is the same thing are you? Multi-window browsing in Safari is nothing like multi-tab browsing. One is klunky (i.e., one window per site) and the other isn't (i.e. one window, multiple tabs).

    >>The prime directive of Android is to turn you into Google’s product so that information about you can be sold to Google’s customers, i.e. its advertisers.

    And I know that going in. I'm selling my information in exchange for services that have proven to deliver a *ton* of value to me. No complaints.

    Thanks for writing and Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh and @milehighfool on Twitter)

  • Report this Comment On May 22, 2011, at 10:37 PM, shanghaid wrote:

    I don't doubt your thesis: Android devices are every bit as capable as those from Apple and can please the Mac user. You also fairly pointed out the balance of features.

    My question back to you, for the iTunes user, those also with iPods, will the Android tabs fulfill them? I am guessing it can but is still not the best offering and as a result we have a duopoly forming.

  • Report this Comment On May 23, 2011, at 2:32 PM, Turfscape wrote:

    Wow...finally an article that DOESN'T declare "there can be only one". Thank you for bringing a small amount of sanity to the discussion. Yes, there are different devices out there for different people, different needs, different work styles.

    There are also very different business models that can both be successful (AAPL vs GOOG). We don't have to live in an absolute, winner take all world.

  • Report this Comment On May 23, 2011, at 3:11 PM, CluckChicken wrote:

    The iPad does have one thing going for it that the Andriod versions do not and that is there is only one version of the OS. The reseaon why the Netflix app is not avialable for some Andriod devices is due to the customization that Google allows and in some cases this has to potential to cause issues for Netflix and their aggreements with studios.

    I still find that the tablets are not yet ready for work. One would think that they would be great for consulting but the iPad was found to have serveral flaws make it just a stylish device to check email. The first big flaw is the security which as of yet does not meet standards required to be allowed to attach to our network (interal IT does not expect this to be resolved in the near future they say with our monthly New in IT eletter) and thus we can not use it to attach to any client site either (even if they allow it). The second flaw, which can be seen as either no fault of Apple or its lack of knowledge, is that corperations do not update hardware as fast as some think they do. Tablets would make great tools to carry around a presentation to present at meetings but the vast majority of companies either to dont have presentation devices with wireless connections or have those features disabled. As a single purpose single person presentation device they are great which is what the Pharms will be using them for.

    As of now IT has said they do not expect any of the Andriod devices to meet the security standards but they have not tested one yet.

    "Tabbed pages had been around on PC and Mac since 2005." - Tab pages were in the Opera browser in version 2 which was around in 1997.

    "The king of all devices by a huge insurmountable lead is the MacBook Air which ends all talks." - The iPad is a much better version of the Air which is a poor version of a real laptop. When you compare the Air to the Ultra-thin Wintel options you find that the Air is vastly underpowered and lascking in feature which is why nobody talks about it even Apple.

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