Back in February of 2011, Eric Schmidt took the stage at MWC to announce Google's latest tablet-oriented app: Movie Studio. It was a rather exciting new addition to Google's first foray into the tablet world. This made it possible for tablet users to not just view content, but to create it as well. This was a big deal. At the time, Apple already had a year-long head start on tablets. Not only would Android need a lot of third-party app support, but first-party apps would be essential to the platform's success.
You may recall the Xoom didn't sell too well.
Part of the problem is that Movie Studio sucked. Sorry to be so harsh, Google, but it's true. You could trim the ends of a clip just fine, sure. But if you wanted to cut a clip in the middle and insert something in between? Nope. Playback was impossibly slow (though, to be fair, this may be because of the Tegra 2 processor inside the Xoom). The effects library was sparse. Really, unless you just wanted to cut off the beginning or end of a project, the program was useless. Eventually, YouTube got its own video editor that was miles ahead of Android's, rendering this one more or less obsolete.
To this day, that's where Google's native video editing app has sat. Languishing in its own lack of updates and meager feature set. A small bump came with the advent of ICS: from version 1.0 to version 1.1. Don't bother looking for what's new. It wasn't much. And that's the real problem. It's been a year and a half now since Eric Schmidt announced this video editor. Google has switched CEOs and launched two new versions of Android since then. Nothing has changed. In fact, the Movie Studio app isn't even bundled with the Nexus 7. It was (and still is) present on the Galaxy Nexus, but apparently Google didn't think it deserved to be part of the stock OS on its flagship tablet anymore.
Why Does It Matter?
So what if Google didn't update an app that so few people used before? Is a video editor really all that necessary? Interestingly, the Nexus 7 can give us a clue as to why content creation apps like this are important. Android's most successful, most popular tablet to date is its own Nexus 7, a $200 tablet with razor thin margins. This device is a loss-leader. Designed to encourage interest in the ecosystem and to kick start the market, rather than to be a source of profits itself. In terms of financials and long-term sustainability as a cornerstone, it's the exact opposite of the iPad. For Apple, the iPad is the product it's trying to sell. The Nexus 7, however exists to sell content on the Play Store and to sell developers on Android as a tablet OS. It's a means to an end, not the end itself.
Remember when the Nexus 7 was going to look like this?
Manufacturers, simply put, will not be satisfied by selling devices like the Nexus 7. Amazon sells the Kindle Fire to push its own content ecosystem. Same with Barnes and Noble and the Nook. ASUS, interestingly, would've only brought the price of the Nexus 7 down to $250 back when it was called the MeMO. These devices do not cater to crowds of big spenders. They cater to people on a budget, or people only casually interested in a content consumption device. The moneymaker for tablets in this price range are not the hardware themselves, but the content you'll buy on them.
Meanwhile, the most interesting Android tablet right now that's not a loss leader is the Galaxy Note 10.1. Following the success of the surprisingly popular Galaxy Note, the Note 10.1 will include the same impressive stylus with a slate that's large enough to give creative types plenty of room to write and draw, as well as a host of digital tools to experiment with and express ideas. It obviously won't replace a full desktop for work, but if you're already looking into a tablet, and one of your options is a device you can sit on a bench or on the subway and sketch with, wouldn't that be a factor in your purchase decision?
If you squint, it actually kinda looks like the Courier a bit. (And if you close your eyes altogether, it sounds a bit like Mario Party.)
Of course, all of this is being done without Google's help. Maybe Google can just let the problem sort itself out, right? I mean isn't that what third-party developers are for? Well, funny thing about that...
Third Party Developers Have Failed Us
I hate to say something negative about developers. As a group, independent app developers have made the mobile landscape fantastic. Could you imagine what your phone or tablet would be like if you had to stick to first-party apps? Yeah. It would suck. However, when it comes to video editing at least, third party developers just aren't very good at making apps to fill the void left by Google.
Here is an article from Mashable with 9 different apps for editing video on your mobile device. Six of them are for iOS. Of the remaining three, one is for creating time lapse videos. Another is a simple video trimmer. The final app, AndroMedia, is at least closer to a real video editor, and could probably do in a pinch, but it still lacks basic abilities like cutting clips. It's not a very productive environment. Update: As an addendum, I downloaded AndroMedia to take a look at it while writing this piece. A few hours after I hit publish, I discovered that this app utilizes those annoying notification shade ads. Yes, the best third-party video editor I could find on Android uses the worst form of intrusive, ad-pushing revenue models.
So far, this is the one of the best video editors Android has produced.
Simply put, after four years, there still isn't a video editor with a decent UI and basic features that would be required of even a prosumer program. Now, it's hard to blame developers for this. Video editors are extremely difficult to make. The sheer volume of formats to support is daunting and many come with licensing fees, so it's no simple task to put together an app that supports even some of the various codecs one would need. Which is all the more reason why Google should be doing the exact opposite of leaving its own video editor rotting on the vine.
It's not all about video editors, though. Music creation is severely lacking. In my search to find compelling music mixer apps for Android, I came across this sentence on metafilter: "I've got an iPad2 running Garageband, which I've used pretty indepth, plugging my guitar into it." Umm. That's awesome. Even failing to plug a musical instrument into a tablet, I would settle for a nice Fruity Loops port. Unfortunately, that project has been in the works for over a year and the current status is "progress is being made, don't ask for ETAs."
In fact the only area of content creation that's really made any major headway is Adobe's investment into the visual arts. The suite of premium apps like Photoshop Touch and Adobe Ideas is a significant boon to the ecosystem, even if they're not supported on the Nexus 7 or any Android phones. Of course, we may have Apple to thank for Adobe pushing apps for Android first. The two haven't been the best of bedfellows after the whole Flash fiasco. Still, only one area of digital media is getting much attention in a market segment that desperately needs it. And why do tablets need this attention?
If You Create It, They Will Pay
In the history of consumer electronics, there have been a few key demographics that are vital to the success of hardware manufacturers. Gamers, and multimedia professionals are (among several) important market groups that drive hardware innovation for a few fundamental reasons: they have high demands for their hardware, they have money to shell out on products they might not necessarily need, and they are more willing to adopt new technology. We're starting to see Android tablets really cater to gaming enthusiasts (particularly with NVIDIA and the Tegra 3 platform), but video and image artists are sorely neglected.
Make more stuff like this and more expensive tablets will start selling.
The iPad saw success because its key early adopter, high-spending market is, well, Apple customers. The $500 price tag on the base model of the iPad may not be a huge sum of money by itself, but in terms of convincing people to buy a device that doesn't replace their laptops, it's a lot of money. Fortunately, Apple already had a large number of fans who were ready and willing to buy into the product line and subsidize the future of the product line. Google is quickly developing a similar type of devoted following, but manufacturers are not so lucky. Android in the phone world had to find success by appealing to a broader customer base, including the budget-conscious and the enthusiasts with cash to burn.
The trouble is, there's no such thing as a budget tablet. Even the Nexus 7, fantastic value that it is, remains a luxury product. It is a very compelling, very inexpensive luxury product, but a luxury product nonetheless. As popular as tablets have become, very few people buy them because they need a tablet and no other device will do the job. If you suddenly found yourself without a computer—laptop, desktop or otherwise—would you find a Nexus 7 to be suitable for everything you need it to do? Likely not. Close. And getting closer. But not there yet.
Meanwhile, the upper end of the pricing spectrum lags just the same. It's not that we look at the more expensive tablets and wonder why they're not laptops. The difference are obvious. A 10" tablet that's extremely portable, has LTE support, and a shockingly impressive battery life compared to a laptop is a very desirable piece of hardware. The trouble is that the apps for it, specifically for content creation, are lagging so desperately that it makes them unusable for enthusiast markets with a lot of disposable income. The hardware may be great, but the software doesn't give anyone a reason to part with their hard-earned cash.
Productivity is an area that's getting better, though even that is hardly thanks to Google.
Docs Drive has received some much needed overhauls lately, but creating anything besides basic documents is atrocious. Don't even try to open a spreadsheet. Hopefully the recent acquisition of QuickOffice will prove beneficial, but in the meantime, even first party productivity apps wait in limbo. Thankfully this is one area where the developer community has picked up the slack, but it could be better.
Make no mistake, there is still a ton of money to be made in the Android tablet world. The Nexus 7 is a fantastic content consumption device. The Play Store doesn't have the greatest content library in the world, but it's growing every day and the infrastructure and branding is now there. It's great. It's going in exactly the direction it needs to go.
Content creation, on the other hand, is not. Up until this point, Google's approach has been to let the community handle filling these rather large gaps. Sometimes this works. Adobe will always be better than Google at creating image editing software, for example. However, in many other cases, leaving the ecosystem unattended just lets weeds grow and leaves healthy apps to wither and die from a lack of support. This doesn't just mean that we don't have the best software we could, but that the devices that would be sold to people interested in that software will continue to sit on store shelves.
Maybe the solution isn't for Google to create a bunch of apps by itself. To be honest, if the Movie Studio we saw launch with the Xoom is any indication, Google probably wouldn't be the best at making a video editor. It would certainly be nice if they did, but I could see how that might not be the way to go. But partner with someone, at least. Lend some devs or support to Fruity Loops. Get Adobe to create a version of Premiere Pro for tablets. Get some investment in your community going. We desperately need apps that allow for more than just couch surfing. Not just because consumers want it, but because without some really powerful, professional-grade applications, manufacturers will continue to have a hard time selling Android tablets that aren't dirt cheap. And no one can survive on the margins of the Nexus 7.