News today that Android is losing its tablet market share in the face of competition from the iPad, Blackberry PlayBook and HP’s now defunct TouchPad did not make for heartening reading. According to market intelligence firm IDC, the Google-engineered OS slipped to 26.8 per cent market share in the second quarter of 2011, down from 34 per cent earlier this year.
In reality, the figures are more of a warning shot across the bow than a sign of Android’s terminal tablet decline. While IDC predicts a further loss in 2011′s third quarter, all is set to stabilise by the end of the financial year. In case the news passed you by, Android’s primary competitors are hardly thriving either. HP have dropped the TouchPad and BlackBerry’s app-less PlayBook will support Android apps by the end of the year. Unlike HP, Google are in the tablet game for the long haul, so a temporary setback is not going to provoke a knee-jerk reaction on their part.
A tablet is a completely different beast to a smartphone – and while Android brings a lot to the table, a simple big-screen port won’t do the trick. The next version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, is due in late October/ early November and will undoubtedly prove a more immersive experience by optimising smartphone apps for tablet use rather than simply scaling them up.
But the operating system is only half the story. Unlike a smartphone, a tablet isn’t seen as a necessity (yet) – but Apple has successfully defined the market as a luxury one. Android tablet makers need to push against the notion of luxury – so far, every high-profile Android tablet launch has targeted the same £400+ price range as the iPad, giving consumers an obvious contender with which to rank them against. Prices need to come down, without the quality falling.
If an Android slate can be seen as an affordable alternative to Apple’s monolithic market leader then, it will open itself up to a whole new potential consumer base. We’re not talking about a cheap knock-off but a device which a teenage design student could sketch out his notes on or a teaching assistant could mark her class’ homework on. Simple, intuitive tablets which aren’t going to set their owners back an arm and a leg to own. With the range of Android apps designed specifically for slates on the rise and a refreshed OS interface on the way, the power to truly compete is in the hands of Google and its partners. Let’s see what they do with it.