February 27, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka
There’s something sadly strange going on in Android tablet country. In a briefing with reporters at Mobile World Congress, Google VP of Mobile Andy Rubin called out Samsung as the most successful Android tablet maker. Then hours later in another briefing, Samsung didn’t echo any feelings of success. In fact, a product strategy executive was kind of down on Samsung’s place in the overall tablet field.
“Honestly, we’re not doing very well in the tablet market,” Hankil Yoon, a Samsung executive, told a group of reporters. Yoon went on to say that the company is optimistic that the Galaxy Note 10.1 will be a big success, but at the moment, the company is not in a good position.
If the company that Google calls out as having sold the most Honeycomb tablets isn’t even satisfied with its sales, how bad must the other guys be hurting?
Andy Rubin said that 12 million Android tablets (excluding the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet) have been sold. Motorola previously disclosed that it managed only to sell about 1 million Xoom’s, leaving Acer, Asus, LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and a handful of other Google-recognized tablets to split 11 million sales between each other. That’s simply not good enough if Google hopes to see similar tablet growth as it has enjoyed in smartphones.
A lack of solid apps has been the biggest problem with Android tablets. One year into the Honeycomb experiment and Android still doesn’t have a healthy number of apps and games to play. There are some, but not enough to warrant choosing Android over an iPad unless you are an Android die-hard. And yes, it’s great to see some quality examples of tablet modes, but someone interested in music, reading, or gaming doesn’t have nearly as many options as they would on an iPad.
Device fatigue has been another hindrance, especially in Samsung’s case. Not counting the variations created to deal with Apple lawsuits, I can name nine different tablets announced in the past 12 months. Choice is good, but not when users are asked to purchase a device that’s going to be rendered obsolete in 3 months and not guaranteed to be supported since its creator has so many divided loyalties. Yoon showed the flaw in Samsung’s thinking when he said, “The best thing to survive in the market is to kill your products. We want to stay competitive in the market.”
Excuse me? The way to stay competitive is to make a great product and support it with everything you have. To stay competitive, make that product unique, reliable, and excel at doing a few things very well. Bombarding users with different niches that vary slightly from each other isn’t the way to go. If Samsung wants to be competitive, the only answer is to stop announcing a new tablet at every single tech event. The company should throw everything it has at the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and then spend the rest of its time cultivating third-party apps or developing interesting tablet apps on its own.
Google has stated that it will devote more resources to improving the tablet experience in 2012. The Verge was at the MWC briefing and quoted Rubin as saying that the company will improve the overall experience of using Android.
“The educated consumer realizes it now that they’re either picking the Apple ecosystem or the Microsoft ecosystem or the Google ecosystem… we’re going to do a better job at making people understand what ecosystem they’re buying into.”
But none of Google’s efforts will matter unless exceptional app development for tablets and companies like Samsung embrace a single focus. That’s the only hope for flipping 15 million and 12 million. And just in case you were wondering, 15 million is the number of iPads sold last quarter. That other number is how many Android 3.0 or higher tablets have been sold – in a year.