Android's rise to the top of the smartphone market took longer than a lot of people realise. But the sales for tablets so far paint a grim picture for the short-term. Here's how Google can turn things around.
1 Cheaper models
Analysts are agreed: tablets are too expensive for the man in the street right now, who find it hard to justify shelling out a device that mirrors parts. And as long as they remain that way their appeal will remain confined to early adopters.
Android tablets from top-end makers are among the priciest of the lot, and looked an even worse buy when Apple opted to retain the original iPad price point for its second-gen slate.
Granted, there have been cheaper Android slates from the likes of clothes retailer Next. But if Google is serious about challenging Apple it needs to find a way to get a heavyweight like Samsung or HTC to produce an affordable kit.
In short, what’s needed is the Android tablet equivalent of the cut-price HTC Wildfire or PAYG wonder the Magic, both of which bargain blowers arguably did more to boost the spread of Android than any other handsets.
2 Google-branded tablet
Looked at from sales alone, Google’s own-branded Nexus Android phones didn’t set the world alight. But to see them as flops would be a grave mistake.
What both handsets, which showcased the Froyo and Gingerbread iterations of the platform, did was set a high standard for third-party manufacturing partners to live up. And in that respect they were both successes – something that’s highlighted by the ever-rising standard of Android phones.
A Google tablet would do the same for Android slates by showing exactly what the search giant expects from them. What’s more, while Google’s decision to break from the industry contract paradigm for the original Nexus One confused customers, the model could work brilliantly for slates. Especially in view of research showing that costly contract deals are what's really putting people off and that people would rather buy their tablets outright and use them over Wi-Fi.
3 Work closely with Amazon
Rumours that Amazon could be planning an Amazon tablet or indeed a family of tablets, have been rife for months now. And according to a lot of analysts it could be the most credible rival to the iPad.
Given the sheer clout Amazon wields in online retailing and the masses of media content it could bring to a platform where it's a bit lacking, Google would be well advised to keep it onside. That means not inciting a price war with its rival appstore, even though its obviously encroaching on Google’s turf and securing some neat, timed exclusives that make the Android Market look a bit of a poor relation.
And there’s more. Amazon’s robust finances mean it’s also in a position to subsidise the unit price of its tablet and recoup the loss from app and content sales. That means it’s arguably better-placed than any of the other manufacturers to make the credible, cheap Android tablet that the platform needs to go supernova.
4 Boost the range of tablet-optimised apps
Software support makes or breaks platforms. That’s a truth we hold to be self-evident. So it’s a worry that a year after the first Android tablets landed there are still only 17 apps available at the Android Market that are designed to take advantage of the screen real estate that slates offer.
Compare that to the iPad. Apple’s offering has a whopping 70,000-odd. If Google is to avoid becoming the Sega Saturn of the tablet sphere, it needs to work out a way to catch-up. And fast.
5 And secure some exclusive ones too
After the PlayBook failed to win people over and the HP webOS tablet remaining a cult concern, the tablet market is a two-way battle right now. But it won’t be for too much longer. Especially when Microsoft
finally gets its act together to mount a challenge on the market.
Google can set Android tablets apart with apps that are only available on its tablets. It won’t be easy. They’ll have to the break the bank to make it worth devs’ while being locked to Android tablets. But
it’ll be worth the outlay to draw in mass-market punters who don’t give two hoots about their OS innovations but could be swayed by some triple A games.
6 LTE support in the US
4G support is notably absent from the iPad 2. Apple could address this omission with the mooted iPad 2+. But we can’t see that happening.
That means that if Google equips its next-gen tablets with LTE for US customers, they’ll have months of being the fastest slates around for browsing the web in one of its key markets. That’s something tangible you can really sell tablets on the back of.
7 Cosy up to BestBuy
One of Apple’s key advantages in the tablet space is that its retail network of Apple stores, all staffed with bright young things well versed in explaining its products to the man on the Clapham Omnibus.
Obviously Google can’t rollout anything comparable quickly. But it can piggyback on other retailers. Not least the Tablet Central area planned for BestBuy stores. For the short-term and busy periods, it
needs to send out reps to demo its wares, engage with punters and turn floating voters away from Apple.
8 Wi-Fi only slates
3G support pushes up the cost of tablets – needlessly, given that they’re seemingly in less demand than those with just Wi-Fi. Insisting that entry level models are available in a Wi-Fi only flavour will
keep prices down.
9 Kybosh fragmentation
One of the few black marks against of Android’s rise in the smartphone sector has been the painful delays to getting updates out to handsets. Its move to standardise processors is a good start. But it ought to learn its lesson for slates by clamping down on customisations ASAP. Or even, get rid of them altogether. We’re not sure they’ll be much
10 Cut devs a larger slice of tablet app sales
Survey show that developers perceive there’s less chance of getting paid for Android kits than Apple devices It’s not hard to see where they’re coming from. After all, right now iOS enjoys a vastly larger user base of would-be buyers.
That means they need to be guaranteed a reasonable return somehow. And there’s no better way to do that than raising the proportion of the cost price they take home. After all, money talks.