Still No Alternatives to the iPad
Reading the post from Marco Arment about the state of Android tablets I have to say I agreed wholeheartedly. Manufacturers may be getting close to the iPad hardware, but the software and disjointed approach to services still leaves the current crop far behind.
One of the areas the Android tablets seem to be falling far behind is apps. Which, considering it's a more open platform, with lower barriers to entry (no having to jump through hoops as with Apple's App Store) you'd have thought the growth would be exponential. Reading a post from a developer about the Android Market from their perspective may provide some insights as to why people aren't flocking to it (there's a nice summary on CNN Money).
Numbers will be another reason, but as Android is now (supposedly) on 100 million smartphones, I'd say the platform was large enough to warrant the development effort (by comparison, Apple announced they had sold 100 million iPhones as of March 2011, but there will be many more devices running iOS, its operating system). Now that's not Android tablets and, compared with iOS, it's still a relatively small market share, but it shows the way and that this is far from a niche product.
One complaint against Android though, seems to be one of its benefits over iOS; that you can run it on different hardware. The problem is, not all of the Android phones available seem to support the software/apps the same way. That also means different screen sizes and aspect ratios to deal with, which you don't get (as much at least) on the iPhone/iPad.
Another seems to be the inability to download or install apps. This is a Market issue rather than an Android one by the sounds of it, but supporting multiple versions of the OS on multiple devices, mixed with poor implementation, seems to be adding a problem where Apple make the process seamless. Maybe Amazon can sort this out with their store.
Anyone making a tablet and trying to compete with the iPad needs to understand that many consumers actually want to buy an iPad just because it's an iPad, the same way they buy iPods over other MP3 players. In a survey, 50% of those questioned said they would choose Apple over other brands.
Not to mention resale value. Macs have long had a reputation that's better than Volkswagen when it comes to keeping their value. You'll probably be able to sell an iPad several years down the line for most of what you paid for it. I doubt the same will be true of other tablets.
When you're faced with that, you don't want to copy the iPad, you better differentiate and play to your strengths, otherwise you are fighting a battle you will lose. So how do you stand out against the iPad? Well, there are plenty of ways.
Building a Successful Tablet
I wrote my perfect recipe for a tablet earlier this year. I'd probably add a few things to that list now and that was designed for consumers, so there are other ways to succeed (it's also primarily a hardware list and hardware seems to be where manufacturers are getting closest). Specialisation is certainly one way, look at Panasonic's recently announced Toughbook tablet, a tablet designed to be rugged so it can be used in places you couldn't take an iPad. Likewise, tablets that attack specific niche markets, especially business or industrial are likely to succeed because Apple has no interest in those markets and most of the iPad's strengths don't apply.
Make a very simple, cheaper tablet for people who aren't interested in all the bells and whistles (no cameras, 3G, limited storage, docking, maybe even get rid of any app store) so they can simply use it to get on the internet and surf (I'm thinking of the original CrunchPad idea). If you can sell it for £200/$200 you undercut Apple by a big margin and appeal to people who just want something simple. How about a simplified 7" tablet for kids? You can sell a range of learning apps and games with it. Go seriously high-end, make it run 3D and 4G, use exotic materials, have concierge buttons and exclusive applications (for big-name stores/brands, for example). Make a POS device for shops so their staff can check stock and show customers other specs and designs with their choices rather than a series of pre-set brochure photos. Make a 7" travel tablet with maps, destination guides and a camera allowing overlays of what you're looking at so you can tell the Eiffel Tower from the Arc d'Triumph.
If you still want to take on Apple head-to-head (and many seem determined to, either because they feel Apple has created a market where none existed so they can't stray or because they think they're losing face by not going head-to-head), then check out my next post where I'll try and cover some of that off.