Google Created the Mess and Now Must Fix Android Tablets

by Patrick Moorhead   |   April 3rd, 2012

Android for phones by any measure has been a success, while Android for “premium” tablets by every measure has been a disaster.  According to IDC, the iPad held 55% market share of all tablets in Q4 2011.  When you remove lower end tablets like the Fire and Nook and leave "premium" tablets at $399+, best case Android has approximately 13% market share, leaving Apple with 87% share.  This incorporates sales from some very nice Android tablets from Samsung and ASUS.  This is beginning to appear like the iPod market where Apple is squeezing every ounce of life out of the premium competition.  So who is to blame for the fiasco and who needs to fix it?  The responsibility lies squarely on the back of Google who in turn needs to fix the problem.

I was very excited about Android the first day I learned about it in 2005.  The market needed another strong choice for client operating systems to ensure the highest growth as Linux just wasn’t making headway. I bought the  T-Mobile G1 Android phone in October  2008, the Google Nexus One in January 2010 and many more Android phones including the HTC EVO 4G, the Motorola Atrix, and more after that.  The phone apps were there, more importantly the popular ones.  While the experience wasn’t as fluid as the iPhone, I and many others appreciated the openness, notifications, and live screens.  While the market was very excited about Android phones, it was a completely different story for tablets.
 
The first looks at Android for tablets, aka "Honeycomb" were amazing. Honeycomb, on paper and in demos, did almost everything better than the iPad. The interface was incredible and looked three dimensional and “Tron”-like. Multitasking, notifications, Flash video support, SD storage and Live Screens looked great.  The Motorola XOOM at CES 2011 won many awards including CES’s "Best of Show Award."  The anticipation mounted and the ecosystem was excited…. until it actually shipped.
 
As I explored here, I show that the XOOM was slow, buggy, without many apps, without Flash, without SD card support, and sold at a $300 premium to the iPad at $799. New models and prices were introduced starting at $379 seven months later.  Needless to say, it was a complete disaster. This was followed by Samsung with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in June 2011 starting at $499.  This tablet experienced a similar fate as the XOOM but not as pronounced because it more quickly moved to Android 3.2.  The best premium Android tablet out there was and still is the ASUS Transformer Prime with its optional keyboard, but it also struggled because of Google’s operating system.  Google then released Android 4.0, aka "Ice Cream Sandwich" which didn’t add meaningful features for tablets, but instead aligned the application development environment between phone, tablet, and TV.  Android 4.0 tablets missed the holiday selling season and didn’t sell many at all compared to the iPad.
 
In summary, the following are the characteristics of what Google allowed to be introduced into the premium Android tablet market place:
  • buggy with crashes
  • slow interface
  • few tablet optimized applications
  • few services at launch for music, books, and movies
  • unfinished features
  • price points on top or higher than market leader Apple with lesser experience
  • missing key consumer retail time frames
So why do I place this primarily upon the shoulders of Google and not the brands, retailers, or component suppliers?  It’s about leadership.  If Google had fully understood what they were walking into, they should have:
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until it was feature complete.
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until there were at least 100 optimized, popular applications.
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until it had full support for movie, music and book services
  • waited to release Android 3.0 until there were greater levels of application compatibility issues that resulted in crashes.
  • instituted some tighter marketing management of hero SKUs to assure their experience was flawless

The result of Google allowing Android tablets out the door before it was fully baked is that the operating system is now viewed by most as a liability as opposed to an asset. Every major tablet maker that I’ve talked to loses money on premium Android tablets in a big way.  Also, anyone’s brand associated with the Android tablets has been marked as well. Motorola and Samsung both had premiere brands but I believe has been sullied by their association with Android for tablets.

Google’s reaction to all of this was to buy a hardware company (Motorola) versus working even more closely with their partners like ASUS and Samsung. Additionally, it’s rumored that Google will introduce their own Google branded tablet which will alienate Google all that much more.  Does the Google brand lend a cachet’ to the equation?  Absolutely not.

All of these issues and confusion benefits Microsoft right now. What was previously considered a free ride from Google with its "free" operating system now has turned OEMs directly into the arms of Microsoft and Windows 8 for tablet.  What a turn of events over the last 18 months.  The pandemonium isn’t over yet.  With undoubtedly more information coming out at this year’s Google I/O, Google is planning Android 5.0 which I am sure will be positioned as the savior of Android for tablets.
 
The problem is that there’s no savior in sight for Android on premium tablets.  We all know Android sells at $199 without much or any hardware profit, but how about $499 where the entire ecosystem can make money?  Google needs to seriously reconsider everything they are doing with  for tablets starting now because nothing else is working.  The new plan needs to fully account for the needs of the silicon partners, ODMs, OEMs, channel partners, application developers and most importantly, the end user.  It needs to find an entirely new name, too, because the Android name has been thoroughly destroyed in the high end tablet market. 
 
It’s time to stop treating Android for tablets like a hobby and start treating it more like a business.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
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  • http://www.BarnesFamily.com/ davebarnes

    “Android for phones by any measure has been a success”.
    Really?
    What if PROFIT is the metric?

    • http://kaizenity.blogspot.com/ FalKirk

      Agreed. In baseball the key is scoring runs. In football the key is scoring touchdowns. In business the key is making money. It doesn’t matter how many hits you have or how many yards you’ve gained or how much market share you enjoy unless they translate into runs, points and profit, respectively.

      Apple has 80% of the industries profits and Android doesn’t. That’s what I call “winning’. In a rational world, that’s what every person would call “winning” too.

      Source: Apple and Samsung grab 95 percent of all handset profits, IntoMobile, April 2, 2012

      • benbajarin

        Thanks for your comments on my TIME column yesterday. Thanks for reading our site here as well.

        • http://kaizenity.blogspot.com/ FalKirk

          No need to thank me. (Although it sure was thoughtful of you to do so!)

          It is I who must thank you for your excellent articles and analysis. Although I’ve read and admired your work whenever I have been linked to it, I’ve only recently added this site’s RSS feed to my reading list. I look forward to reading more of your work and the work of the other contributors here at tech.pinions on a more consistent basis.

      • http://twitter.com/Soloren2001 Soloren2001

        Winning is also a race. RIM was winning and now it’s dying. Apple is winning this round in term of profit. But these players all ought to look way ahead or end up like Nokia, RIM, etc.

        • http://kaizenity.blogspot.com/ FalKirk

          Well, I agree that all of the players need look ahead, and I certainly don’t think that Apple is invulnerable or immortal, but right now they have the best selling iPod Touch (which I think is more important than people realize), Smart Phone and Tablets on the planet. If you count the Ultrabook as a separate category (which I don’t), they have the best selling Ultrabook too. That makes them the leaders in pretty much every cutting edge area of technology today.

          Certainly nothing is guaranteed, but if you’re handicapping the races, you’ve got to like Apple’s chances.

    • http://twitter.com/Soloren2001 Soloren2001

      Google wants to protect it’s core business: search. Mobile is the future of PCs. So if Google wasn’t the ubiquituous new PC maker it could easily be leapfrogged by any player that installed a different search engine. Android is doing incredibly well compared to Microsoft, Nokia, RIM, etc… And in many ways it is leading the race against Android. Apple is being cornered as a niche high-end product and Android is the new Windows of the Mobile device. I’d say it’s not so bad. Including for profits.

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  • mhikl

    Google is madly trying to copy Apple sense and practice. I applaud these attempts. I think Steve would have approved, too. The difference between the others and Apple is that Apple takes its time in planning and has tireless patience. Apple does not thrive on the thrills from quick jumps to market. I suspect angst to get to market may be a drug like high or addiction to most companies. It seems Google had an itch, a genesis of an idea and Android came into being: “And Google finished its work which it had done, and Google said ‘it is good’ and it rested on the seventh day from all its work which it had done.” It appears Google was very pleased. However, this is where Google went wrong. Maybe a universe can be left to its own devices once formed, but Steve and Apple and I believe, Tim, never rest, never believe their work on any project is ever done.

    Google had quickly designed a mobile phone and now from its telephone design it is trying to patch on the tablet fixin’s. That seventh day should not have been a day of rest but a day of reflection when Google and its ugly sisters should have come to realise that their prize was not “done”, not “good” and far from complete. But it was complete enough to jump into and succeed very well in markets of the time, although without the opportunity to the profits Apple relentlessly gobbles up. I doubt Google could have imagined that the iPhone came from the efforts of Apple’s work on a tablet that, long in work and study, needed only the phone bits added to change an industry. With the comfort of success and the massive profits the iPhone was making, Apple could return to its tablet. The lesson for Google is that in the long run, catch-up is always a struggle when one forgets to tie up its laces.

    The ways of Apple are indeed deep and complex and the culture can’t be copied off the shelf. That is why Steve would likely have smiled as he passed out advice. It’s like the cook who shares a recipe but leaves out important ingredients.

  • Uday Varma

    Its refreshing to read a site which has well written articles and not headline grabbing link bait. Well done Tim, Ben, Steve, Patrick and the Beard.

    • benbajarin

      Thanks Uday, really appreciate it. That has been my goal from the beginning, focus on quality not quantity of articles per day. Thanks for reading.