I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 for a while, in addition to the iPad 2 that I regularly use. It’s a nice little piece of hardware – lighter than the iPad (as you’d expect from the smaller size), and with enough battery life and power to do plenty of stuff.
In common with almost all Android tablets, it runs Honeycomb rather than the latest Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) version of Android. And, although Samsung have stated that it will be getting an update, it’s likely to be later rather than sooner – perhaps a few months. Of course, Android being Android, a bunch of hackers have already started on an “unofficial” port, and the beta of that has been enough to persuade me that ICS, while still behind iOS 5 in many ways, is a big step forward.
But the fact remains that Android tablets remain a long way behind the iPad in many other ways. There’s a lack of “showcase” applications, for one thing: the likes of GarageBand, which can sell an iPad in five minutes, simply don’t exist for Android. Then there’s the failure of tablet vendors to actually use ICS – amazingly, there are tablets which are still shipping using Android 2.3, which is as absurd an idea as Apple shipping a tablet with iOS 3.0.
So what should Google do? I have three suggestions.
Now, a source tells us that CEO Larry Page, who seems to be hell-bent on competing with Mark Zuckerberg whether it’s the right thing for Google or not, had this to say to employees at a Friday staff event after the Search Plus Your World launch: “This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything. If you don’t get that, then you should probably work somewhere else.”
Page, for better or worse, has realised the lesson that Apple has been teaching: an integrated, focused, well-designed product will always stand a better chance of success than a product which is looser, less focused, but more “open”.
What I’m fascinated about is how this new direction will impact on Android – does that “across everything” include mobile devices?
I think it does. I fully expect the Galaxy Nexus to be the last “Google Experience” phone produced by anyone other than Motorola. I also expect Google to start having its own range of pure Google Experience phones, rather than just a single device.
In other words, Google is going to start controlling Android more tightly by stealth: it will sell the best phones, with rapid, regular updates that its erstwhile-partners can’t match. Within a few years, I fully expect Motorola to have overtaken Samsung as the number one Android vendor. And, what’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung hadn’t forked Android and ended up producing its own Samsung-only variant, with its own App Store.
One notable thing about the new beta release of Chrome for Android: There’s no Flash installed. And what’s more, because of Adobe’s decision not to develop Flash for mobile further, there isn’t going to be any.
So much for those ads claiming Android ran “the whole web”.
Having said that, I’ve been playing with Chrome for Android this evening, and it’s really good. It’s finally brought the Android browsing experience up to the level of Safari on iOS, and in some areas surpassed it. The ability to instantly move from desktop browser to Android browser and get the same open tabs is really useful, too.
And one final thought: The appearance of Chrome on ARM makes it much more likely that ChromeOS will be moving that way too. And that means cheaper devices with longer battery life.
It is that the consumer is Google’s product. Android is a delivery system to serve the consumer to Google’s target market — the advertisers. So Google’s customer for Android is not the consumer (with the arguable exception of the Nexus phones), but rather the carriers.
He’s right, and he’s wrong. It’s a bit like saying “magazines are the delivery system to serve the consumer to advertisers” – it’s true, in a literal sense, but it makes absolutely no difference to the qualities of the product itself. Why? Because, like magazines, if the product isn’t attractive to consumers, it won’t attract them enough for it to also be a viable “delivery system” for advertisers. The moment you stop thinking that your customer is the consumer, you’ll fail to make a product that works for your real customer (the advertiser).
Just like magazines, in order for it to be attractive to consumers, Google has to forget that Android is a delivery system for advertisers. Just as magazines developed the “Chinese wall” system that kept advertising and editorial apart, so Google has to have a Chinese wall between the people who develop Android and advertising. Google, like Apple, has to solely focus on the needs of consumers.
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
It looks like Logitech is out of the Google TV market:
The mistake, plus “operational miscues in EMEA” cost the company “well over $100M in operating profits.” De Luca did throw Google a bone by saying that he believes Google TV will have a chance sometime in the future, but it would be a “grandchild of Google TV” that would do it. Logitech clearly has no plans to help make that happen, opting instead to sit “on the bench” (as De Luca had put it in an earlier call) until Google can find success.
The real problem, though is that “Internet on the TV” is not where TV watchers are going. Instead, most TV watching is trending towards being a two-screen experience: you watch the show on the big screen, and chat about it on Twitter or Facebook using a mobile, laptop or tablet. The idea that you do everything on the same screen is just too ’90s.
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.
So much for the iPad killers:
Apple managed to gain market share in tablets at the very time that many of its new competitors were supposed to be taking that share away, IDC said Wednesday. Having full access to data from the past spring, it found that the iPad had gained share, moving up from 65.7 percent at the start of the year to 68.3 percent. Multiple Android tablets’ arrivals only led to Google’s share shrinking, dropping from 34 percent in early 2011 to 26.8 percent mid-year.
Jason Perlow asks a pertinent question:
It’s important to note that if we had the Chrome browser on an Android tablet, why would we want a Chromebook? For the price of a Chromebook you could pick up an Android tablet with a keyboard that connects via dock or bluetooth. You would have the same functionality, plus the added capabilities of Android.
You would also have something running on a massively-less secure operating system, which is currently a prime target for malware authors.
I’m currently using a Chromebook as my main mobile machine, having had my beloved MacBook Air stolen. Using one is a culture shock, and it’s a profoundly different view of the world. But I’d much rather have it than a crappy Android tablet and some kind of hokey docking station (the keyboard on the Samsung is lovely).