Slate writer Farhad Manjoo recently wrote a “iPads are the greatest ever, ever, ever!” article that, while not technically wrong, was nothing more than a huge fanboy victory lap for a short-lived victory. Frankly I expected better from Slate. The comments are predictably populated by loud and angry proclamations on both sides, punctuated by more reasonable people leaving sensible comments. Damn those reasonable people!
Below is my response to a commenter claiming that Android tablets have failed disastrously, can’t compete on price, have no applications worth using, etc.
1. Android Tablets have failed disastrously.
The claim that Android tablets have failed disastrously is pretty silly. I live in a pretty affluent area and I see more people here with Android phones and tablets than iOS devices. I know several people at work who have an iPad but I also know several who have Android tablets and some who are looking to get their second, with the latest hardware. This isn’t just techies I’m talking about. It includes a lot of not very technical adults who just want something they can own and not have to put up with Apple’s ecosystem.
Here’s what happened with Android tablets in the beginning. Google and Android moved into tablets too soon, pulled into it by overeager manufacturers like Samsung with their Galaxy Tab. The Galaxy Tab is a great device (I bought one the day they came out) but Android wasn’t ready for tablets. Android 3.0 Honeycomb was better but still a quickly thrown together tablet OS, unlike Apple’s always carefully prepared iOS releases. Now, with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Android finally has a unified OS for phone and tablet that works well with both. The user experience will not be as smooth as iOS for awhile because Apple’s control of the whole manufacturing chain and totalitarian control of the content they allow on their devices means they can more tightly control quality and ensure that everything works well together. But eventually, Android will reap the benefits of having opened itself up to the world, letting basically anyone make an Android device.
Android will become ubiquitous in mobile and embedded devices and Apple will increasingly become a non-dominant product. Apple is dominant now because its philosophy it to dominate a market very quickly, just as with the Apple IIs and Macs. I had an Apple II as a teen and I have three Macs my family and I use daily, so I understand how well designed their products are. But very few people use Macs at work because Windows is good enough to get the job done and there’s Linux for people who need real power and control, both of which I use as a software architect.
The article’s author, Farhad, makes points that aren’t necessarily wrong, but are misleading. He’s taking a very narrow and short-term view of technology.
2. Android can’t compete with Apple on price.
As far as price, one of the primary reasons Apple can offer such great prices is because they use slave labor. It’s recently come out that Apple has conspired with book publishers to inflate the price of eBooks and will be sued by the US government. So Apple’s playing with a fixed deck in at least a few ways. I’m disappointed because I genuinely like Apple products, but Apple the company is increasingly becoming someone I’d rather not know personally. I’m afraid that Steve Jobs went beyond not being a very nice person, to being sociopathic in his drive for power, perfection, and profit.
3. There are no good tablet apps.
I’d like to ask the people claiming there are no great Android tablet apps whether they’ve actually used an Android tablet in the past six months. There are more great apps, games and otherwise, than my kids and I have time to even try out, much less use daily. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Most of the good iOS games are also on Android, many of them for free, and Android also has a huge number of independent games and tools that aren’t available on iOS.
I have two 11 year old boys and a 15 year old daughter. They are all very tech conscious, as most kids are these days. iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches are hot, but the big thing to have now is Android. My wife, daughter, and I all have Android phones, cheap no-contract ones that cost about 1/3 the price of an iPhone off contract, provide all the core functionality, and cost us a total of less than $100 US per month in cellular fees. My boys love to play with my older hand me down Android phones and their friends with IPod Touches or iPads beg to play with my Asus Transformer tablet when they visit.
Kids and young adults love to tinker and they realize very quickly that Apple’s “My way or the highway” philosophy won’t let them be creative, making their device into something personal. An Android device for a kid is just a core system that allows him to load all the games he wants, most for free, customize everything about it, from the lock-screen to the launcher to the keyboard to the menus, everything. And he can do whatever he wants with it. This freedom matters greatly to kids and young adults. That’s partly why Apple will steadily lose market share, remaining the favorite of technophobes and other people who just want something as an appliance, but losing appeal to everyone who really wants to own their toys.