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Is There Hope for Android Tablets?



I’ve spent almost half a year playing around with Android tablets and while there is progress being made it’s clear that we need to see a marked improvement in the Android tablet experience if there is any hope for Android tablets. To stand a chance, we need a ‘Droid’ tablet to show off what tablets can do. Google also needs to figure out the “Secret Sauce” that will differentiate Android tablets and place a bigger focus on what users can do with their Android tablets.

We Need a ‘Droid’ Tablet

Droid Tablet

We need a Droid Tablet

What is a ‘Droid’ tablet? Glad you asked. A Droid tablet is a flagship device that delivers on all counts, “Droid tablet Does, not will do” and brings Android tablets into the mind of the average user the same way the Motorola Droid did when it launched in November 2009. You don’t need to look further than the average Android users, who when asked will likely refer to any Android phone as a Droid, even though it is an exclusive name.

Before the Motorola Droid launched Android was an operating system for geeks, with a fledgling app store and a relatively low install base, but once a solid piece of hardware landed on a nationwide reliable network Android was in the game, giving the iPhone a run for its money and ultimately starting the arms race that has led to better mobile operating systems on both Android and the iPhone paving the way for super phones like the upcoming Motorola Bionic and the iPhone 5.

Android tablets are moving in the right direction, but we have yet to see that one device that delivers a true iPad alternative. This will be hard to do while the Android tablet OS is still young and lacking the wide array of apps, but we have the same chicken and egg scenario which was an issue for Android phones back in 2009.

If you go back in time and read the early Motorola Droid reviews you’ll see that the hardware was there, but the Android operating system and app selection was still an issue. In this case great hardware and an even better network led the way to a success that allowed Android to get the traction it needed to survive, eventually leading to over half a million Android activations a day. This is our first ray of hope for Android tablets.

The Ingredients Google Needs for Secret Sauce in the Tablet Space

The Motorola Droid had the Verizon network and Google Navigation as part of the “secret sauce” that helped it succeed even when priced on par with the iPhone, but as we have found out the network isn’t a major player in tablets, leaving a void that needs filled by whatever tablet wants to step up to fulfill the role of the Droid tablet.

Ultimately the secret sauce that will help the Droid tablet “Do” comes back to Google. It is time for Google to stop taking such a laid back approach to the Android tablet ecosystem. It is possible to curate something without closing it down, and that’s what Google needs to do with Android as whole. Here’s how Google can deliver a better Android tablet by providing a better base for manufacturers.

Curated App Store – There’s no need to start telling us what apps we can and cannot use on our devices, but with malware apps popping up every few months and cloned apps serving ads it is time for Google to take charge and deliver a more secure Android market.

Killer Apps – Handing out Android tablets isn’t enough. If Google is really invested in Android tablets, the company needs to deliver a stellar apps experience. This starts with the inclusion of standard Google services like Docs, which absolutely needs to have a tablet optimized version. In the past month with an Android tablet it’s clear that Google needs to work with developers to bring subscription apps like Wired, a Twitter app that makes use of the Android tablet display and more amazing games.

Google needs to go a step further to bring developers into the Android Market. For Android to stand a chance at competing with the iPad Google needs to go out and get developers to bring Android tablet apps to the marketplace — apps that work on all Android tablets, not just a specific one. I don’t care if it takes up the 20% time of the entire Android OS team, Google needs to build in support for some type of file protection system so that Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services can use a standard across all devices. Delivering a protected method for streaming media doesn’t close down the operating system.

Android Developer ChallengeApp Development Challenge – In a similar fashion Google needs to find a way to get great tablet optimized apps. Whether this is done with an Android developer challenge like the one ran in 2008 or by straight up paying developers, something needs to happen. For another example of how to attract developers, check out the great prizes Intel is using to attract developers to the Intel AppUp store. Apple also took a similar role in 2008 by playing a part of the iFund to help get Apps up and running.

Flash Off – Here’s the thing. Flash on mobile devices is awful, never there at launch and at times downright annoying. If Adobe gets their act together and delivers Flash on smartphones and tablets that works, great. If not, then let’s stop screaming that Flash is a differentiator.

What About Specs?

While I hope the Droid tablet will come with a Quad Core Nvidia Tegra processor that delivers stunning visuals, most consumers don’t care about the specs. They want to know what they can do with the device. The Toshiba Thrive commercial is getting there, by telling prospective buyers what they can do with the Android tablet, but it’s still not clear what console quality games Toshiba is talking about and where I will get media to play on my HDTV over the HDMI port.

Is there Hope for Android Tablets?

Android Ice Cream SandwichThe good news is that the Android tablet environment is incredibly young. Even though the iPad has a big head start Google can still step in and deliver a better Android operating system, ecosystem and ultimately user experience when it launches Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich this fall.

This next version of Android will run on phones and tablets, and hopefully bring the “Secret Sauce” that Google needs to bring Android tablets up to par with, and maybe even ahead of, the iPad.

In the end, it is in the best interest of iOS and Android fans for Android tablets to take off. We have the competitive ecosystem in the smartphone industry to thank for the current back and forth feature implementation and one-upmanship to thank or our current high-end smartphones. Now that HP is in the tablet space we could see a three-way race to the top that results in amazing tablet experiences all around.



  1. MadMax8600

    06/29/2011 at 5:23 pm

    Flash is a differentiator but I do agree with the rest of the post.  There should be one video streaming standard so that developers don’t have to write custom apps for every Android device.

    • Josh Smith

      06/29/2011 at 6:33 pm

      I haven’t had good experiences with Flash on Android phones or tablets. Do you have a use case you use it for? Interested to know how others are using Flash on the go.

  2. MJ

    06/29/2011 at 6:24 pm

    I think you’re all wrong with the comments on Apps for the Android.  There are tons of apps, and new developers are coming to the market every day.  The nice thing about Google is that they don’t ban apps for inappropriate content like Apple does.  I think Apple does more of a disservice to developers than Google does, by banning apps.  The only apps that Google ban or remove are the ones that do contain malicious code.

    The only thing Apple really has going for it is it’s marketing/brainwashing of all the Apple Fanboys.  It’s caused such a monopoly in the market that accessory companies jump on that band wagon and produce accessories for Apple products only.  Look at iPod speaker docks compared to competition, Zune.  I think there is only 1 for the Zune whereas iPod has hundreds.  This could be the only downfall of Google Android devices.

    • wingzero0

      06/29/2011 at 6:43 pm

      You love android like I do but lets be honest with ourselves first. Like you said, apple has great marketing ability. Its not brainwashing. Their commercials are simple and show what can be done with their Ipad. Lets not attack them, lets attack the ignorant manufacturers for puttings such stupid ads out for our android tablets. We know their superior, but does the common man or woman know? No! The Motorola xoom super bowl ad is evidence that Motorola has lost touch with the consumer. The article was great. I’ve been thinking these things myself. Something as simple as naming or even re-naming the xoom with the droid name would start to help its sales simply because people associate that name with something worth paying for. The Droid name is what sets it apart from idevices and would have been a excellent tool to attack apple with but they didn’t.

      Know why? Because now that apple has gotten on Verizon’s network they can’t run their Droid does ads that show how impressive android is compared to Ipad. Apple purposely wanted to get on Verizon to shut down that type of marketing because of the hurt it was doing to their line of products. Now that they’ve done that, its almost game over unless google steps in and stop playing what they approach almost as a game and realize that their at war.

  3. DNel

    06/29/2011 at 9:26 pm

    In your section on Secret Sauce, you list many things that Android (tablet) definitely needs, but they are things that Apple already does. To be the sauce or the Droid Does, it has to be something beyond what Apple already does. I would think that the HTC Flyer could/should be the spark for Android tablets. An active digitizer with inking would be a killer differentiator to the iPad. Of course, it would need app support. Just look at all the Apple apps that try to do inking and it is apparent that people want inking. Flash just isn’t enough to set iOS and Android apart, inking would.

    • Scottygu3

      06/30/2011 at 1:18 pm

      Absolutely. The first to get PDF Amnotator, an office suite that penabled, and a OneNote-like app will be the first to sell me a thin and light (non-tablet pc)

  4. Rilgon Arcsinh

    06/30/2011 at 7:44 am

    “There’s no need to start telling us what apps we can and cannot use on our devices”

    …Isn’t that EXACTLY what you espouse in the very next breath?

  5. Steven Thomas

    06/30/2011 at 9:41 am

    The vision I have had in my head for about 15 years for tablet type devices would be that they would eventually replace student textbooks.  Using a beefed up version of Adobe Acrobat that allowed text scaling, zooming, font changing, embedded pictures, video and audio, and a secure way of delivering e-books that would prohibit copying or torrents, the idea is to take a stab at the fascist textbook publishing industry and bring massive financial (and spinal) relief to students, parents, and governments.  This version of PDF would allow the student to make notes, highlight, and markup their books, embed links to notes, and wireless print to a classroom printer.  Even when I was in college, textbooks were insanely priced, and now they have gone completely overboard.  Updates and new versions could be published easier, more revenue could go to the authors versus the publishing and binding companies.  If tablets can get into that market you would have a constantly refreshing base of millions of users.  In the case of tablets, like video games, specs and OS mean little .. content is KING.  

  6. DJY Chun

    07/01/2011 at 5:04 pm

    Mobile Learning is the key to success for Android and Google in the longer run.

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