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Samsung announced this morning that its Android-based Galaxy tab sold 600,000 units globally in the first month of its launch. Meanwhile, Apple’s iPad sold over a million units in the same time period (and in even fewer nations than Samsung’s global count). Furthermore, some pundits see consumer anticipation of the “iPad 2” as weakening the whole tablet market till Q1 of next year when such a product could be announced by Apple.
So just a month in, the first model in a new series of Android-based tablet computers is already losing to Apple’s market-defining iPad.
Will the iPad’s advantages with a market-leading developer ecosystem and unmatched pricing power in the supply chain give Apple the last laugh in this new round of computing turf wars, or will it eventually lose significant market share to the Android tablets?
Tim Bajarin, principal at technology consulting firm Creative Strategies and a 30-year veteran of the computing field, has spent a lot of time advising companies on their tablet strategy. He believes that Android tablets will do more to expand the entire tablet market instead of actually taking away market share from the iPad. He advises, “Apple’s ecosystem is so far ahead of Android’s that at the very least, Apple will have the upper hand through 2011. The bigger question is whether the Android world can get their act together and create an equally powerful ecosystem of hardware, software and services in the future.”
But Bajarin doubts whether Android’s “wild wild west” marketplace for applications — lacking any real vetting process or quality controls — could sustain heightened consumer and developer interest. “While they have been criticized for this, our research shows that consumers really like the extra care from Apple,” says Bajarin, who believes that Apple’s ecosystem is thoughtfully designed, with the lack of malware and objectionable content as a boon to consumers.
Bajarin cautions that he can’t rule out the possibility of Android coming together to deliver an equally attractive ecosystem. However, he cites Google’s lack of a cohesive tablet strategy as a telltale sign that Android will not take a chunk out of iPad’s market share in the near future. “Apple also has a very controlled road map for hardware, software and services,” he says, while noting that, “Google’s goal is to create the OS and give it to vendors and let them figure out what to do with it. There is no master plan involved other then to help Google make money.”
There are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the fighting chances of Android tablets: the release of Android 3.0 (also known as Honeycomb), a tablet-specific version of Android designed for screen sizes between 5-10 inches, should be released sometime in Q1 or Q2 of 2011. This could provide the more focused strategy currently lacking in Google’s approach that would do much to bolster the emerging platform.
Matthew Hagger, the developer behind Zkatter, a real-time mobile web broadcasting and discovery service currently in stealth that will be one of the first applications to debut on the Samsung Galaxy Tab, is one of these optimists. He confidently proclaims not just a fighting chance, but a “knock out” by Android that could come “within two years in the tablet space.”
Going so far as to say that the Android platform could control 80% of the tablet market, Hagger believes that the variety of software verticals supported by multiple app stores and a wide geographic net supported by carriers and device-maker partnerships will turn the tables in Google’s favor in due time.
He also believes that the variety of hardware devices are going to become more important to developers and their software, since they won’t have to focus on inconvenient and costly porting. “These devices have varied use cases,” he said, citing his own service as taking early advantage of the special use case made possible by the dimensions of the Galaxy tab.
Victor Chong, product manager at mobile app developer Linkworks agreed, citing the plethora of manufacturers preparing to ship Android tablets as a sign that the platform will be able to “cater to many more market segments than the iPad can.” Pointing to Android’s higher market share than Apple’s iPhone in recent months, Chong joins the chorus of optimists who believe the flexibility and pricing power allowed by a wide variety of Android smartphone devices could perform similar feats for Google in the nascent tablet space.
Whatever the outcome of this next battle for the future of personal computing, it’s probably best to keep the moderate words of Tim Bajarin in mind: odds are, Android tablets will do more to expand the market rather than create a turf war within it. Samsung’s Galaxy tab may be an early victim of the fight, but in the long-term, other Android tablets could make more headway.
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