Benedict Evans ponders the meaning of Android:
As should be obvious, this makes counting total ‘Android’ devices as though they tell you something about Google or Apple’s competitive position increasingly problematic. But to me, pointing out that ‘Android’ doesn’t necessarily competed with iPad is rather boring – what’s really interesting are the possibilities that these new economics might unlock.
A good example is this – a 2G Android phone wholesaling for $35 (just one of hundreds). Now, stop thinking about it as a phone. How do the economics of product design and consumer electronics change when you can deliver a real computer running a real Unix operating system with an internet connection and a colour touch screen for $35? How about when that price falls further? Today, anyone who can make a pocket calculator can make something like this, and for not far off the same cost. The cost of putting a real computer with an internet connection into a product is collapsing. What does that set of economics enable?
Benedict picks out what’s really interesting about Android, and it’s absolutely not that “80% market share” pundits keep going throwing around. The kinds of devices that Benedict describes aren’t in the same market as the iPhone: a $35 2G smartphone is as comparable to the iPhone as a Mercedes S-Class is to a Mini. Both do the same thing (carry you around), but no one who’s in the market for one of them will end up walking out of a showroom with the other.
But what is interesting, as Benedict points out, is what a $35 Internet access device enables. When devices like this are as pervasive as a pocket calculator used to be, what does that allow us to do? Smart devices, network-enabled, which are almost cheap enough to throw away are much more interesting in the long term than expensive (but undoubtedly brilliant) devices like the iPhone.
Ben Bajarin takes a peek into the “white box” segment of the tablet market and finds out what they're being used for:
Nearly all evidence and data we find comes back to a few fundamental things. First, most of these low cost tablets in the category of ‘other’ are being used purely as portable DVD players, or e-readers. Some are being used for games, but rarely are they connecting to web services, app stores, or other key services. I have asked local analysts, local online services companies, app tracking firms, and many many more regional experts, and the answer keeps coming back the same. They affirm that we see the data showing all these Android tablet sales. But they aren’t actually showing up on anyone’s radar when it comes to apps and services in a meaningful way.
Is this even the same market as the iPad? I don't think it really is. Whereas the iPad is being used to effectively replace (or augment) the PC in many homes and businesses, this looks much more like a replacement for the portable DVD player. Think video iPod, not Mac replacement.
The Verge reviews the new Nexus 7:
So when Google announced the new, $229 Nexus 7, I immediately leapt to the pre-order page. This would solve all my problems! It has a fantastic display, a great processor, all the books and magazines and movies I want, and it’s so small and light it’ll go everywhere with me. Right?
Then I looked over at the Nexus 7 I bought last year, which I loved to pieces. But it’s sat dormant for six months. The battery’s dead, maybe permanently. I scratched the screen pretty good, too. But a year is a long time, and maybe this would be the one. I had to find out.
Someone who runs out on day one and buys a product is highly unlike to admit on day three that they’ve bought a lemon, no matter what faults they find. That’s just human nature, and it’s one of the reasons why, when doing reviews, you get short-term loaners from the company rather than buying your own.
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is really quite impressed by the Nexus 7, going as far as to say that:
If Apple doesn’t raise its game with respect to the iPad, my next full-size tablet could be a Nexus.
I’m going to leave to one side a lot of what Adrian says in support of the Nexus 7, because it boils down to things which are either personal preference or equally applicable to the iPad mini. However, I’m not sure why he makes the statement above: After all, there’s already a nice, big Nexus device which – from the perspective of hardware – matches the larger iPad.
Personally, I haven’t used my Nexus 7 since I bought the iPad mini. There’s nothing in the N7 that’s superior to the mini, apart from the price. If you want a tablet and are on a really tight budget, the N7 will serve you well. But really, if you can afford the extra money for the mini, spend it: you won’t regret it for a moment.
Even if you’re wedded to Google services, the mini is probably the better option. With Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Drive and pretty-much everything else well supported by apps on the iPad, you’re missing out on almost nothing, and you have a wider variety of apps to choose from (and generally better quality ones too).
Ben Thompson on the Google we always wanted:
Android did its job: Google’s signals have unfettered access to users on every mobile platform. Microsoft is in no position to block them, and Apple, for all its bluster, isn’t interested.
Chrome is doing its job: Google’s signals sit on top of an increasing number of PCs, slowly making the underlying OS irrelevant.
Google+ is doing its job: Every Google service is now tied together by a single identity, and identity is the key to data collection on mobile.
This is the thing that people often don’t get: while Google and Apple appear to be competing with each other, because both companies sell a mobile platform, in fact they have entirely different aims and objectives. This means that it’s perfectly possible for both to “win” by their own criteria.
Apple wins by selling the best devices, ensuring no one can stop them delivering the best user experience and making a profit from them. Google wins by improving its advertising products and ensuring that no other company can lock it out, depriving it of potential audience.
This is why the occasional talk of Google pulling or handicapping its iOS products (see the comments here) is laughable. Google doesn’t care if you’re using an iPhone or an Android phone. It cares if you’re using Google services or not. And the best way to get iOS users to use more Google services is to produce better products for iOS, rather than expect them to buy a new mobile phone.
Jared Newman reviews the Hisense Sero LT 7in tablet, currently selling for $99 in Walmart:
But there’s one big caveat with the Sero 7 LT, not listed on Walmart’s product page: According to Engadget, TechRadar and others, this tablet will only last for about four hours on a charge. Most other tablets last at least twice as long. Even if you’re not planning on hours of consecutive use, a big battery allows you to keep your tablet lying around for days at a time, using it on and off throughout. With a four-hour battery, you’ll need to be extra mindful about plugging the tablet in when it’s not in use.
Also, keep in mind that while the Sero 7 LT’s microSD slot compensates somewhat for the measly 4 GB of built-in storage, it’s not a cure-all. Some Android apps and widgets can’t be installed to a microSD card, and juggling two sources of storage can be a hassle.
So in other words, it’s a tablet which has a battery which makes it certain not to last through the day, tiny amounts of storage, and a dual core processor which is likely to make it feel sluggish. It has no roadmap for future software upgrades. Essentially, it’s barely useable for the kinds of purposes that any family would want to use a tablet for.
Yes, it’s cheap, but in the way that 10p tins of beans used to be cheap: you’d open them up, and find a third of the can was thin watery sauce, with some tough, tasteless beans nestled at the bottom. You’d eat them, because they were the only thing you could afford: but if you could afford anything better you’d buy that instead.
Sundar Pichai, who recently took over Android from Andy Rubin, pours some cold water on the “Chrome OS and Android to merge” rumours in this interview with Wired. But he does leave one door open:
” We want to do the right things at each stage, for users and developers. We are trying to find commonalities. On the browser layer, we share a lot of stuff. We will increasingly do more things like that. And maybe there’s a more synergistic answer down the line.”
Suppose that, rather than Android effectively subsuming Chrome, as most people seem to think will happen, Android got the ability to run Chrome Packaged Apps? What if Chrome Packaged Apps ultimately became the default way to develop for Android?
Java, which Android apps are currently developed in, has never felt like a good fit for Google – a company which spends much of its time evangelising the web and web technologies. Packaged apps deliver native-like capabilities and are installable, so you don’t need a constant Internet connection to run. Developers have already used Packaged Apps to create some pretty good games, which shows what can be done.
I wouldn’t expect to see this at this year’s Google I/O… but next year? That sounds like a pretty Googly thing to do.
A great point about the new HTC One from Techpinions’ Steve Wildstrom:
There was a word missing from HTC’s unveiling of its impressive new HTC One phone. HTC executives talked about the BlinkFeed streaming home screen, the redone Sense user interface, the BoomSound audio system, and the Zoe photo-plus-video app. But there was no mention of the phone’s Android software. Even on the One’s web page, you have to drill down to specs to learn that it runs Android.
Nexus is a brand. HTC One is a brand. Samsung Galaxy is a brand. Is Android really a brand anymore?
The inestimable Mr Gruber:
Even “hardware” features are defined by software, and can no longer be judged on their own. Consider, say, mobile phone cameras. The camera itself is important – the sensor, the lens, the physical size – but ultimately what matters is the quality of the images it produces, and software is a huge part of that.
This is something that I have to repeatedly point out to Android users. Over and over again, they point out how the hardware on a particular phone is better than the iPhone, and how the software allows you more precision control over the shot you take with the camera.
And over and over again, I ask “which takes better pictures?”
And the answer is always the iPhone.
(via Daring Fireball Linked List: CES Is the World’s Greatest Hardware Show Stuck in a Software Era)
Benedict Evans sums up the current state of the mobile market:
“In other words, Apple has 20-30% of the market by volume, but it is the top 20-30%. Google ‘has’ the rest, but has only a very tenuous connection to large parts of it, and another large proportion is likely to be worth little or nothing for a long time. Roll on uncertainty (link): everything will change, again, in the next year. ”
This is only phase one. Whether iOS and Android are even in the same market most of the time is up for debate.