There are two distinct ecosystems developing in the mobile industry. They are emerging from two phenomenally powerful camps: Apple and Google. Apple has iOS; Google has Android. We all know that, we see it every day, and the way the industry is heading, and the coverage of the industry in the world media, it seems the common opinion that tablets and smartphones go hand in hand. The success of an OS on a tablet is bred from the success it’s had on the smartphone and vice versa. Well, here’s a tip: maybe that’s not the case.
The way I see it right now, is that there is one fundamental difference between the tablet and the smartphone: phones, whether they’re mobile or otherwise, have been around for donkey’s years. We’ve all held one, we’ve all used one, and most of you reading this probably pay a small fortune each month to own one. It’s been this way for many years now, and long before the introduction of iOS and the arrival of Android we had Nokia 3310s, Motorola RAZRs and other ‘dumbphones’ that we turn up our noses at now, but were revolutionary in their day. For this reason, we don’t see the iPhone as the epitome of all phones. It happens on occasion, but rarely do you see someone pull out a phone to a chorus of ‘is that an iPhone?’. By contrast, anything with a slight resemblance to an iPad, including the likes of the Kindle and almost all other tablets, have been known to be confused with Apple’s tablet by those not so clued up on modern gadgetry. What doesn’t assist in beating this problem, is the dubbing of seemingly all new arrivals into the tablet industry, as the ‘iPad killer’.
The iPad was the first major success for a tablet. It’s taken the tablet form factor and put it in the hands of millions and said, ‘there you go, this can replace your PC’. People have bought into it, and it’s the flagship tablet for the industry, not just for Apple. So far, no others have come close, yet predictably and unsurprisingly, there are those that wish to knock it from its proverbial perch.
The way that Google and manufacturers have gone about the promotion of Android on smartphones has been admirable. It was becoming the case that the iPhone was the smartphone, yet by flooding the market with an incredible and unavoidable quantity of high-end Android devices, and marketing the hell out of them, consumers have more than begun to turn a blind eye to Apple, and Android has finally become the power that it always promised.
Will this work the same way in the tablet industry, though? The iPhone was never the face of phones. It was never the phone, and subconsciously that probably led consumers towards a more open mind towards what they can buy. There was always choice, there was always option in the phone industry long before they became ‘smart’. Tablets, on the other hand, have only been about the iPad since it arrived on the scene last year. There’s no getting away from the fact that Joe public simply sees a tablet as an iPad. However much you promise him that it is in fact, a Xoom.
On the other hand of course, the tablet industry will be far more mature in just a year or two, and surely those that have bought into the Android platform already with their smartphones will want something that works in conjunction with said phone in a tablet, should they be looking to buy one. It’s all about getting the knowledge out there that there is another way to go other than with the iPad, I just think it’s going to be a tougher job enforcing that in a market so easily dominated at this point by Apple. On top of that, we have the small issue that iOS looks like iOS, no matter the platform. However, you take the majority of the Android tablets coming out now, running Honeycomb, and less knowledgeable users will take one look and be none the wiser to the fact that it’s the same OS that’s running on their handsets in the form of Gingerbread or Froyo. It just looks too different. So maybe it’s a waiting game for when we see Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich appearing on both tablets and smartphones at the same time and unifying the ecosystem. But then how long will that wait be? You know Android and its software updates. And will current Android handsets be upgradeable to the all-new version? All of these questions factor into the debate massively, and at the moment it’s looking quite bleak for Android tablets as far as I’m concerned.
Moving away from smartphones for a second, we can also compare the tablet market to that of the old-fashioned PC industry, too. If we substitute Google for Microsoft and Android for Windows, we can pit Apple against a similar rival. Obviously Macs take a tiny proportion of the market in comparison to Windows-based PC’s coming from a host of different vendors, yet that strikes a stark contrast to the current tablet industry. Why is that? Well, that’s an argument for another day, but the fact is that a lot of it comes down to pricing. Macs are considered hugely expensive by the everyday customer, who is more likely to leap at the opportunity for a budget machine made by the likes of HP, ASUS or Acer. Compare this to the tablet market and we can place the iPad much further down the pricing ladder, when compared to its rivals. Starting at just £399 its cheaper than almost all of its rivals, barring the ASUS Transformer minus the dock. The iPad is almost ludicrously, incomprehensibly cheap for an Apple product in relation to its competition, and when its simultaneously eyed as the pinnacle of the marketplace already, this bird’s suddenly becoming a lot more attached to its perch.
Like I said, though, I can’t forecast the future of the entire industry, it’s just my two cents. And if you’d like any questions answered, or to leave any feedback, or more importantly voice your opinion, then you can do so in the comments section below, or alternatively follow us on Twitter @ZathUK. If you’d prefer, you can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.