Editorial: Android Tablets Still Suck, And Google's Running Out Of Time To Fix Them
Posted by David Ruddock in Android OS, Editorials, Tablets
• The Device Without A Home
I want to ask everyone a question - well, everyone who owns an Android tablet, that is - how often do you instinctively reach for it, as opposed to your phone or laptop? I don't care what the reason is, I'm just genuinely curious how much of a "tweener" role your Android tablet has taken in your life. And after you read this editorial, share that story with me in the comments, because I'd really like to have a discussion with people on this.
• The Secret (Apple)sauce
• The Sleeping Giant Is Awake
• Comments (297)
I own a Transformer Prime. Know how often I use it? Once, maybe twice a week for a few minutes. At most - and mostly because I feel obligated to "stay in touch" with it. The only time I reach for it more than that is when I'm reviewing a game, or my laptop battery is dead and I'm too lazy to get the charger out. And when that's the case, I usually just end up using my phone instead, because it's already in my pocket. Actually, last week, for the first time in ages I pulled out my Prime and played a movie on it while I was lying in bed suffering from a bout of warm-weather insomnia. I haven't appreciated my tablet like that in a long while.
In fact, the last time before that was when I was on the 10 hour airplane ride to MWC and desperately needed some TV to watch, because I knew my laptop was too bulky for the economy seat tray. That was 3 months ago.
The Device Without A Home
Android tablets are a lot like vegetable cleavers. Stay with me here. They're a tool built for a particular set of tasks - if your tablet is the cleaver, your modern Android smartphone is the 6-inch chef's knife, and your laptop is the professional Cuisinart food processor with juicer and meat-grinding attachments.
Your phone is the most versatile of the three, largely because it's the most readily portable. The tablet can do much of what the phone can, some of it more efficiently, but it's also just not very good at a lot of things your laptop is - especially anything related to productivity. Your full-on laptop is the food processor because it's a pain in the ass to lug around everywhere, and you need to stay relatively close to reliable power in order to use it.
But the thing is, only Android tablets are really vegetable cleavers. And they're in an environment where everyone has $600 chef's knives that make them nearly redundant. They're this in-between tool that serves a narrow number of purposes that are even further narrowed by the existence of another, more generalist tool, and it's very debatable if they're even better at those specific tasks they're designed for (or worth dragging out) in the first place. More on that in a moment.
The iPad is like a bigger, sharper chef's knife. It does almost everything the iPhone will (imagine the iPhone as a smaller knife) - except better. Now, this isn't a perfectly analogy, so let's not rely too heavily on it. In fact, screw it, let me just say what I mean: Android tablets offer almost no compelling reason for their existence when growing numbers of people have modern, 4.5"+ display Android smartphones.
The sad truth is, everything I would do on a tablet, I just do on my phone (or laptop) instead. I always remember to charge my phone, I always know where it is (very close by), and with a 4.7" 720p display and Android 4.0, it makes my tablet look like little more than some wonky form factor experiment that exists for sheer novelty value (much as people thought the iPad did when it came out).
Morning email? Phone. If I have to type out something longer than 4-5 sentences? Laptop, because the tablet's not going to offer me any advantage typing in my bed. Feeds? Phone. Chat? Phone. Reddit? Phone. And there's a reason for that: the phone is smaller, lighter, and easier to hold than a tablet, and the tablet doesn't really offer me any efficiency advantages in any of these daily tasks. If I had a 3.5" iPhone, I might reconsider, but I still doubt my Android tablet would get much use. I'd just start using my laptop more.
The Secret (Apple)sauce
So if the iPad is just a big iPhone, and an Android tablet is just a big Android phone, why aren't Android tablets flying off the shelves like iPads? Let's take ad hominem attacks about "fanboyism" and "branding" off the table here. They're tired, stupid, and unproductive arguments lobbed like burning sacks of metaphorical dog shit across the lawns of tech blogs all over the web. And saying it's "because of the apps," while partially true, is not the sole factor here by any stretch of the imagination.
The iPad is successful because it fills a real niche among its target audience. Most iPad owners are, by no small coincidence, iPhone owners as well. And they were probably iPod owners before that. Apple took advantage of this intelligently. Apple already had a strong presence in the content market with iTunes by 2005, and the ever-growing popularity of movies and TV episodes purchased through iTunes made the iPad a "duh" decision in 2010. Apps were a key part of the formula, but Apple knew it had a large group of customers out there yearning for a device that let them watch their iTunes content on a larger display without having to lug around a laptop.
Android's non-app content ecosystem has basically no established footing. Google was so late to the content game that Amazon MP3 came preloaded on many Android devices (including the Nexus One) until early 2011. Google Movies remains a rental-only service. There are no television shows. And while movies and music will play across your Android devices, PCs, and Mac computers, services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and of course iTunes, have already firmly seated themselves as the go-to digital content choices of millions of people.
This is but the beginning of Google's content sins. The Google Music app is ugly, barren of any useful features, and the reliability of streaming leaves something to be desired. But one of the worst offenses? The fact that Google Play's content stores for Music and Movies are so horribly useless for browsing and discovering content when compared to iTunes. It's almost shameful: