I’ve recently been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, one of the newest generation of Android tablets running Honeycomb (an Ice Cream Sandwich update is in the pipeline. Even though it’s not significantly cheaper than the 10.1in Tab, I got it because of the different form factor: it’s significantly lighter and easier to carry around than the iPad I already use, and makes a nice contrast to the bigger tablets.
However, it also illustrates the issues with using an interface which is designed for larger screens on a smaller touch screen. Some of the applications which are designed specifically for Honeycomb have controls and buttons which are perfect for touching on a 10.1in screen, but which are just a shade too small to accurately hit on something a couple of inches smaller.
This is a point that Harry McCracken makes very well in his post on how it must be possible to build a good 7in tablet. As Harry puts it:
No, the reason that a 7″ iPad seems unlikely in the short term is because it would only have a shot at greatness if it had an interface and apps designed with a 7″ display in mind. A 7″ tablet isn’t just a big smartphone, and it’s not a tinier 9.7″ tablet. Building a 7″ iPad by essentially making the iPhone’s pixels larger or the iPad’s pixels smaller would be the wrong way to go about it.
Part of the problem that Android tablets face is that the free-form nature of Android development means that any vendor can decide on sizes and simply hack its own version of the operating system on to the tablet. If Android applications then don’t fit properly, it’s not the vendor’s problem. It’s just the user’s
I largely agree with John Gruber and many others than Roboto is a bit of an ungainly beast of a font, although it’s much better than the hideous thing it replaces. But I think that John is missing the mark in this statement:
This idea that designers who favor iOS criticize Android for being poorly designed just because it’s from an Apple competitor is nonsense — a bogeyman construct dreamed up by open source zealots who refuse to believe over a decade of evidence that open source UIs tend to be ugly, and that ugly UIs tend to be unpopular.
Being open source has nothing to do with it. Like almost everything in Android, Roboto is designed, used and built at the instigation of Google: it’s not like Roboto was created by an amateur font creator sat in a basement who wanted to contribute to a project.
Android’s design deficiencies have nothing to do with the source being open. Android’s design deficiencies are down to Google not being great at designing consumer products. Android could be completely closed, and it would still look the same.
To put it simply no one can match the iPad because no one can match Apple’s prices with a tablet that matches its features:
When better equipped (though bulkier) netbooks can be had for $250, tablet-makers need to set their sights below $200. There is just one problem: the cost of the components currently used comes to more than that. According to the market research firm iSuppli, the basic TouchPad cost Hewlett-Packard $306 to build.
At the moment, as The Economist correctly points out, Google’s strategy isn’t working either:
But the ultimate killer feature that Android and other tablets have failed to replicate is the care Apple took from the start to ensure enough iPhone applications were available that took full advantage of the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen. Today, over 90,000 of the 475,000 applications available online from Apple’s App Store fully exploit the much larger screen size. By contrast, only a paltry 300 or so of the nearly 300,000 apps for Android phones have been fully optimised for the Honeycomb version of the Android operating system developed for tablets—though many of the rest scale up with varying degrees of success.
There simply isn’t enough incentive at the moment to develop applications which fully take advantage of Honeycomb. And Google doesn’t appear to be pushing developers to do it.
It’s not even out yet, and already the Lenovo IdeaPad — the Chinese manufacturer’s attempt to crack the tablet market — is getting something of a savaging:
The IdeaPad K1 has been in development in one form or another for a year and a half, yet it still isn’t ready. And even if it had hit the market a year ago, it wouldn’t have been good enough (at least in its current form) to go head-to-head with the original iPad. The K1′s hardware is chunky and cheap-feeling, its screen is washed out, and the software is unstable to the point of being unusable at times. It sounds harsh, but when you can pick up the iPad 2 or the Galaxy Tab 2 for just $499, the $50 you save by getting a K1 doesn’t seem close to worth it — unless, of course, you think there’s some value in buggy software.
So it’s shitty hardware, buggy software, and not even comparable to the iPad of a year ago?
It certainly isn’t getting anywhere near the point that Lenovo’s CEO, Yang Yuanquing, is after:
Apple only covers the top tier. With a $500 price you cannot go to the small cities, townships, low salary class, low income class. I don’t want to say we want to significantly lower the price, rather our strategy is to provide more categories, to cover different market segments.
So much for that. If Lenovo can make an expensive tablet this bad, just how bad will one be if they push the price down?
Susan Decker for Bloomberg:
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world’s largest software maker, began arguing its U.S. trade case that Android- based smartphones made by Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. use technology derived from Microsoft inventions.
In a trial that began today before the International Trade Commission in Washington, Microsoft accused Motorola Mobility of infringing seven of its patents and requested a halt to imports of certain Motorola phones. The ITC has the power to stop imports of products that violate U.S. patent rights.
Lots of people seem to have missed this in the discussion of why Google bought Motorola: Motorola’s patent pool hasn’t protected it from being sued. There’s no reason to suppose that it will protect Google (or any of its other licensees) now.
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Nick Bradbury, author of the very fine FeedDemon, on learning Android and “the fragmentation thing“:
Of course, I can’t write my first post about Android without mentioning its supposed “fragmentation” problem. It is a problem, but it’s mostly blown out of proportion. Desktop developers have always had to create software that works across different OS versions, different devices and different screen sizes, so the fact that you have to do that on Android isn’t a big deal. But it is a big deal when different Android devices handle things differently – video playback and recording, for example, are challenging due to device differences, and getting video streaming to work reliably across devices feels impossible (as Netflix discovered).
Nick, I think, gets this right. Fragmentation is real, but developers deal with it.
If you want to start a flame war, post something about whether Google is truly “open” or not. Nothing in the world of technology – not even comments on the state of Steve Jobs’ health – is more likely to get people shouting at each other.
Amongst sections of the Mac community, Google gets a lot of stick over its openness. Some criticise Google for putting “open” above “usable”. Others claim that openness is nothing more than a marketing bullet point for Google, and point to its failure to release source code for Honeycomb or its total silence over the core algorithms that power search and ads.
I don’t think Google’s openness is “just” a way to mislead – I genuinely think that internally, there’s a lot of commitment to being as open as is commensurate with being a profitable company.
Some of their efforts are extremely valuable: for example, while I think WebM is crapola, it’s valuable to have a freely-licensable codec that will (hopefully) be widely supported. I doubt that MPEG-LA would have been as generous with the terms for H.264 as they are currently had Google not waved the big stick. And that’s an area where there’s little direct revenue implication for Google.
Having said that, it’s clear that at some point internally, the idea got floated that “we are open” was a good marketing point, and that’s where things began to go wrong. It’s almost impossible for a company which creates code, delivers online services, or (for that matter) makes hardware to be genuinely open. Google could never be open about its search algorithms, not simply because Bing would instantly be as good as Google but also because people would use that information to game the system.
And that’s the issue: Having invoked the magic “open” word, you’re a hostage to fortune. Any time that the rational decision is “don’t be open” (as it is, arguably, with Honeycomb’s source) sneering naysayers like me will be on your case, whacking you over the head.
Venturebeat gives Google’s music beta a first look:
“Music Beta in its current form is far from what we’d expect from a Google product— it’s a web of confusing programs without a lot of instruction as to how to actually get to the music you want to hear.”
Actually, that’s exactly what I’d expect from a new Google product.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Goes on Sale for $399, Sells Out Immediately
“This mirrors the Tranformer’s success in the UK where its first three production runs have already sold out. Either Asus didn’t anticipate high demand and lowballed their stock, or the Eee Pad Transformer is the perfect example of what can happen when you mix powerful hardware, Android Honeycomb, and the right price.”
My gut feeling is that the fact that the Transformer can be effectively turned into a netbook is making it much more attractive to one segment of the audience – one that wants a tablet occasionally but otherwise wants a small, light laptop.
It also shows that the way forward for Android tablets, at least for the time being, is to try and be different from the iPad rather than just being a (slightly hokey) alternative.