Is Google's failure to maintain control over the use of Android on tablet devices hurting the image of the operating system? Joe Minihane investigates.
Toshiba’s Folio 100 tablet was largely welcomed when it was first unveiled. A 10.1-inch slate running Android 2.2, costing just £329 for a 16GB model, it aimed to undercut the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the cheapest Wi-Fi model of the iPad. However, just ten days after going on sale here in the UK, the DSG group of retailers, including PC World, have pulled the Google-backed slate, citing a string of returns and complaints.
Quibbles ranged from a failure to include Flash, despite it being a core feature of Android 2.2, to the lack of Android Market and the browser not supporting pinch-to-zoom. The latter is pretty much unforgivable on such a capacious device.
The Folio 100’s failure to tear it up raises plenty of questions about Google’s approach to Android. How can it ensure that products bearing its mobile OS are of top quality? And should it be doing more to offer kit that measures up to the high standards which it clearly sets itself in other aspects of its wide ranging web business?
Firstly, you could argue that the Folio 100 (and the Galaxy Tab) should never have been allowed to go to market with Android FroYo on board. Google hasn’t been shy about saying that the current version of Android is not optimised for tablets and that it would have preferred OEMs to hold fire in their battle to make ground on the iPad. It’s understandable that Toshiba wants to take on Apple. Why shouldn’t it? But if it knew FroYo would pose problems, then should it have really put the Folio 100 on the market, only for it to take a pasting and have it pulled from the shelves of one of this country’s premium technology retailers?
A similar issue was presented recently by the woeful tablet effort from UK clothes retailer Next. Why Google allowed such a device is baffling. Surely it devalues the brand and adds to the growing sense that Android is becoming a fragmented platform that does not work consistently across devices.
So how can Google tackle this problem? Well, it needs to start being more stringent about what devices use Android and how they implement it. The problem is this runs anathema to the open ethos of the Open Handset Alliance and makes for a more prescriptive approach, as favoured by Apple.
The latter’s policy of keeping its software on lockdown until its ready (mostly) causes fewer problems down the line. Google doesn’t want to go around telling OEMs what to do. But there’s going to come a time when it’ll have to bite the bullet if it wants to ensure quality across all devices using the Android platform.
The Folio 100 should be taken as a warning sign. Trusting OEMs is fine, but Google should start taking a more hands on approach if it doesn’t want to face major problems in the future.