11
Jan
Screen shot 2011-01-10 at 8.37.05 PM

Introduction

If there's one thing CES told us about the upcoming twelve months in technology, it's that 2011 will be the year of Android tablets. And with noteworthy entries such as the Motorola XOOM, ASUS' lineup, and the T-Mobile G-Slate, it looks like the tablets' quality might be just as high as their quantity - at least hardware-wise.

But what about the software? After all, isn't a device's OS what makes or breaks it? And even if the tablets are good, will consumers care? Let's take a look at the top five areas Android tablets will need to succeed in.

User Interface

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Ultimately, a good UI is one of the - if not the - most important aspects of a tablet. As Motorola's Jim Wicks put it, a tablet without tablet-friendly software is nothing more than a "smartphone that doesn't fit in your pocket."

Take the Galaxy Tab. Sure, it was deemed an excellent product by us Android enthusiasts, but other reviewers did not come to nearly as favorable conclusions. The #1 reason for their concerns? Froyo was clearly designed for phones rather than for tablets, and Samsung's TouchWiz UI didn't really add much to the mix.

On the other hand, Google claims that Android 3.0 - which is what most of the tablets we saw at CES will be running come launch time - was "built entirely for tablets," and the Honeycomb teaser video gives us no reason to doubt that. Additionally, Google didn't hire infamous designer Matias Duarte and buy BumpTop for nothing; it's obvious that the company is interested in improving the Android UI, and it seems they've done so, starting with tablets.

In conclusion, I think Honeycomb tablets will be pretty well off in the UI department - judging by what we've seen thus far, Android's graphical elements really have been redesigned so as to be more appropriate for a tablet's larger display.

Music, Movies, and Multimedia Stores

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Let's face it: Android's current multimedia solutions are somewhat of a train wreck. From the barebones music app to the nonexistent music/video store, there's no beating around the bush here: if Google plans to compete with Apple on the tablet scene, one of the most important things they'll need to address is multimedia.

We've already had a sneak peak at Honeycomb's music player, and so far, I like what I see. Plus, Google plans to allow users to send music from their computers to their Android devices wirelessly - sweet!

The bigger issue on the multimedia front is actually getting music and videos on the device. As it stands, Android does not include any sort of video store, and the closest thing Google offers to a music store is Amazon MP3 (which isn't quite sufficient in my mind - if Google wants to embrace multimedia, they'll need a premium solution of their own rather than an arguably second-rate third-party one).

One of Motorola's videos for the XOOM gives me hope in the video arena - it mentions watching movies "the way the filmmaker intended." This could be nothing more than a reference to the XOOM's gorgeous display, but I doubt Motorola would brag about the tablet's video-watching capabilities while simultaneously forcing users to scour the Internet for movies and then sideload them onto the XOOM's SD card, as is necessary with the current batch of Android devices (with the exception of Samsung's Galaxy line, which includes the Media Hub app). One can always hope...

Support From Developers

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One of the best things about the iPad is how many apps have been developed for it - according to AppShopper, more than 60,000 applications have been created specifically for the Apple tablet.

It's not just quantity, though; a lot of iPad apps are really fun to use and often include functionality that goes above and beyond what I'd expect from an app on my phone. So far, we haven't really seen many apps developed exclusively for Android tablets - one of the main reasons I haven't bought one yet.

Will we start seeing more of them once tablets like the XOOM hit the market? That depends on a lot of things, one of which is...

A Tablet-Specific SDK

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Say what you may about the current Android SDK, but it'll suffice for now - at least on the mobile scene. On the tablet front, however, it's evident that Google will need to release a revised SDK (or at least an add-on to the existing one) to be truly competitive - the current implementation simply isn't fit for development of tablet apps.

Samsung has released an add-on to the Android SDK for its Galaxy Tab... but that's the problem: it's from Samsung, and it only works with the Galaxy Tab. What we really need is a universal SDK capable of creating apps that will run on any Android-based tablet (or at least any Honeycomb tablet). Unless, of course, you want even more fragmentation... in which case, bring on the SDKs, Motorola, ASUS, and LG!

Marketing and Affordable Prices

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Obviously, another factor that will determine whether future Android tablets will receive attention from developers is the number of units sold. After all, if you were to develop an app for one tablet OS, which would you choose: one that has been tried and true (and has a huge user base), or one that is still in its infancy and has a relatively small user base?

One of the chief factors that will determine Android tablets' mainstream success is the quality of commercials put out for them. I have high hopes in this department, as at least two Honeycomb tablet providers - Motorola and Verizon - have proven themselves to be capable of producing amazing advertisements.

Another deciding factor will be the tablets' prices. Like it or not, the iPad has set a certain standard for tablet prices, and seeing a number of tablets powered by our beloved Google operating system start at $499 wouldn't surprise me at all. That said, I'd be delighted to see a tablet like the XOOM start at something even lower than that - I think even a price tag cheaper by only $50 or so might really help sales (especially with some kick-ass advertising to back it up). Low prices are critical to a product's success in tough economic times like these, and I think Android tablets (and tablets in general) should be no exception.

Final Words

So, can Android tablets take off? They certainly have a good chance - the Honeycomb UI looks stunning, I have high hopes that Google will improve Android's multimedia situation, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a revised SDK and admirable sales figures lure developers onto the platform.

But will they? Again, it's possible, though it will definitely be an uphill battle - Apple's already nabbed a good portion of the market, and it'll be hard to convince the average consumer that Apple's products aren't the best options anymore.

Personally, I'm just happy there will finally be plausible alternatives to the iPad; however, the jury is still out on whether the rest of the world will share this opinion.

Jaroslav Stekl
Jaroslav Stekl is a tech enthusiast whose favorite gadgets almost always happen to be the latest Android devices. When he's not writing for Android Police, he's probably hiking, camping, or canoeing. He is also an aspiring coffee aficionado and an avid moviegoer.

  • Kane

    I can kind of see what you mean to say with the Android SDK - of course Google will release the Honeycomb SDK, there's no doubt about it. I suppose what you mean to say is it should remove the need for individual SDK add-ons for it by each device manufacturer.

  • http://www.apexcarpentryinc.com/blog Salt Lake carpenter

    You are right about marketing. Everybody is constantly told that Apple is the best ever. It will take a lot of effort to overcome this misperception. Honeycomb does look great, it will open many eyes to the advantage of Android.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Since XOOM is with Verizon, let's hope they put as much effort into promoting it as they did with the original Droid.

      • Aaron Gingrich

        I doubt it. When they promoted Droid, it was the sole focus of their attention because they needed it to compete with the iPhone. Now that they have the iPhone and iPad, their attention will be split. Not saying they won't promote it, but it's not going to be a complete blitz like the Droid campaign was.

        • Chris

          That's exactly what i thought. It's a shame because those adds were some of the best I've seen.

          I think perhaps the best add for Android would be Steve Jobs on stage. Once they saw that their 'ultimate cool' leader was actually an old guy in £7 jeans, they might change their minds.

          I loved his release of the iPad..."it's thin.......it's really thin."

          Striking words.

  • No one

    A Tablet-Specific SDK

    That's the worse thing I've ever, ever heard. You want to drown in the sound of people screaming "fragmentation"?

    Android's only shot against the iPad is the full catalog of Android apps for the phone and the fact that devs don't need to change much.

    What would you even have in a tablet-specific SDK, it really doesn't make any sense as a developer.

    • http://androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

      Thing is, using apps designed for smartphones on a 10-inch display doesn't exactly make for a pleasant user experience (see the Jim Wicks quote in the "User Interface" section). If there's a larger screen, at least some apps should take advantage of it.
      To be clear, I wasn't saying Android tablets should only be able to access apps developed for tablets; I was merely suggesting that Google might want to provide a more tablet-friendly SDK. Of course Android tablets should still be compatible with apps designed for phones.
      Also, I'm not quite sure what you mean by "the full catalog of Android apps" being Android tablets' one advantage - the iPad is capable of running any iPhone app too, and there are actually more iPhone apps currently out there than there are Android apps. Perhaps you could clarify?

      • OzCDN

        But this is the whole point of Honeycomb. The idea is to allow the same app to appear differently on different devices. One app, one development cycle, one price but a different experience on each device depending on its capabilities.

        Google is going the opposite direction to your suggestion and I believe it is the right move.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

          See the second paragraph of my first reply to No one...
          "To be clear, I wasn’t saying Android tablets should only be able to access apps developed for tablets; I was merely suggesting that Google might want to provide a more tablet-friendly SDK. Of course Android tablets should still be compatible with apps designed for phones."
          Also, when did Google say this? Don't recall them saying anything of that sort.

      • No one

        ... Right, so you would create a new version of the app for a tablet. The SDK has nothing to do with it. You're the one arguing for a "different" SDK... what would be "different" about it? It's the same elements, the same interfaces, but redesigned for a larger screen real estate. I can open the SDK right now, put in a 7in screen setup and develop an app that looks good on a tablet right now.

        So I ask again, what would be "different" for the Tablet SDK? The whole point is that there is a base Android and any Android app can run on any Android device. Facebook can have an Android app and depending on which device it's installed on, it presents one of two interfaces. Or there is a separate app altogether with extra features and a new layout for the Tablet.

        ... All of which is easily done with the current SDK. Different apps for a tablet, maybe. Different layouts for a given app for a tablet, definitely. But I've still yet to see or hear any reason for a different, let ALONE separate SDK.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl

          "What would be 'different' for the Tablet SDK?"
          Well what APIs did Apple add for iPad development? Sure, iPhone and iPad apps are developed using the same SDK, but there are certain APIs that can only be utilized on the iPad.
          Google will almost certainly release a new SDK for Honeycomb - an OS that, as they themselves have said before, was built "entirely for tablets." They've released an updated SDK for every version of Android up to now, and I don't see a reason why that should change with 3.0. Again, given that Honeycomb is a tablet OS, and that there will be a new/updated SDK for it, would you not agree that this will, therefore, be a "tablet SDK"?
          Of course, Google could just update the existing Android SDK - and if they did a good job, this could certainly be sufficient (as could an add-on to the existing Android SDK).
          One final note: the current SDK does allow you to develop tablet apps, but I'm sure the Honeycomb SDK, with its additional APIs, will allow you to build much, much better ones (and perhaps it will require much, much less work).

  • DF

    updates, updates, updates

    & in a timely manner is also very important

  • zeo

    All of this because Apple didn't want to make a netbook to eat in to their profit margins.