Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

Summary: A lot of ink has been spilled decrying the Android fragmentation problem, and while the smartphone space is surviving in spite of it the tablet space will not.


This weekend has been an Android tablet weekend. I've been updating all the tablets I have, both OS and app updates. I like doing it as it is fun to get under the hood with Android and tinker. All of this updating has driven one point home that Google hasn't understood yet -- until there is one OS version on all Android tablets they will never compete well.

The tablets I have are varied, yet have something in common that is giving me fits. All but one of them is running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), which is not even an official tablet OS version according to Google. The one exception, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, is officially running Honeycomb, a "real" tablet OS. The latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), has been out for a few months and there are even apps appearing that require it, but it is only available on one or two tablets.

That is a huge problem for Android tablets in the marketplace -- it's bad enough to not have the latest OS version but with tablet apps now requiring the latest version that no one has it is a deal-breaker. Google likes to spout an insane number of apps in the Android Market that are optimized for the tablet, but the fact is very few tablets in customers' hands can even install them. Tablet apps require Honeycomb or later to install, and the vast majority of tablets sold (thanks to the Kindle Fire) are running a non-tablet version, Gingerbread.

Pre-Honeycomb tablets are restricted to running phone apps blown up to fit the tablet screen. Apps actually written for tablet use require Honeycomb at least, so only a fraction of tablets sold can even run them. Now apps are appearing that require ICS, Google's own Chrome browser is at the top of the list, and those can run on maybe a few customer's tablets.

The system has evolved so that most tablets sold cannot run tablet apps. That makes no sense on any level, but it is the way things have been allowed to happen. Now Honeycomb tablets cannot run the best tablet apps, even though they are genuine tablets. Android tablet owners have everything stacked against them at every turn, and Google is firmly to blame for that situation.

The real group impacted by this tablet OS situation is the app developers. They are expected to write tablet apps for the platform with few tablet owners able to run them. Now they are dependent on only the latest version of Android to take advantage of the platform, aka Google Chrome, and yet they can't expect much return due to the lack of tablets in the market that can even run those apps.

Owners can take matters into their own hands and root their tablet and put an unsupported ROM onboard. I've done that with my Galaxy Tab 10.1 to get ICS installed so I can run Google Chrome. That's not the way it should work, however, and why Android will never aggressively compete in the tablet space. While the smartphone space can survive the fragmentation issue, tablets cannot.

Even Microsoft understands that a single tablet platform is required to have a chance in the market, and while I'm not sure it will compete well I respect its approach. Android on tablets is floundering, however, and will continue to do so until Google gets a single tablet OS version on all tablets sold.

Of interest:

Topics: Laptops, Android, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Tablets

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  • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

    What can one say except that you have nailed the reason why fragmentation is harmful for Android tablet growth.

    That one example you gave (about Google's Chrome browser requiring ICS) clarified - in crystal clear language - your main hypothesis.

    Until now, the jury was still out as to how manufactures, in general, would handle legacy product updates. The hopeful always assumed that the manufacture of their Android tablet would support their product thru timely updates.

    We now see that those Android tablet manufactures view their tablets as a "one time consumer purchase" and that software updates will require a new tablet purchase - similarly to how their smartphone business model operates.
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      @ James Kendrick: You're missing one thing. This was well known, ever since the tablet only Honycomb came about. ICS fixes all this, so it will ultimately be fixed but the OEMs are really taking their time to release ICS for their tablets.<br><br>Asus should be commended for getting ICS for the Transformer Prime out quickly but what about the Transformer? Why on earth haven't Samsung released ICS for their massive Tablet range yet? They will though, probably around the time the S2 gets it.<br><br>In short, give it a few months and this article will be irrelevant.<br><br>Honeycomb has a respectable user base. App developers should be writing for that and trying to get ICS features in too.<br><br>As to Gingerbread being the number 1 tablet OS. That maybe true in America but again you forget America isn't the world. World-wide I'd guess Honeycomb beats Gingerbread, you can't buy the Kindle Fire outside of The States.<br><br>Does it even run all Gingerbread apps? Samsung needs to authorise all apps for it on it's own market place. Meaning you cannot really consider the Kind Fire a normal tablet and include it as such. It's a semi-closed device. I doubt Google consider it an Android tablet.<br><br>"While the smartphone space can survive the fragmentation issue, tablets cannot."<br><br>I completely agree with you there.
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      Quite frankly there is just one thing the average consumer needs to know about a smart phone. It's an iPhone "but not an iPhone". Most people don't really know what os they are running. It just needs to operate like how people expect.... iPhone like. Just throw in a bigger screen and 4g is all that it takes to sway the average consumer.
      If android did not operate like how a smart phone is envisioned (iPhone like) to the masses, it just fails. If android used large flat colored tiles jumbled in a half-hazard orientaionn, used a vertical scrolling for the menu screen rather than the iPhone screen swipe, and fed random adds and feeds to the already buzzy, clumsy, and overly crowed home menu screen. It may have not been so successful. Wait did I just describe windows phone 7?
      • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

        You seem very uninformed and in a very small apple box lol. People who are not apple fan users buy phones and tablets so they do not act "iphone like". People dislike the "iphone like" way of doing thinbgs with its heavy limitations and ugly UI. Most people except a few who just don't care about what they spend money on know what OS they have and what version they have. The exception being the folks in the later 50s and up as they just want basic functions but want to feel up to date so they buy iphones and ipads then have to be told most of the time thy can't do what they are wanting to do as apple os just can't. Your assertion that every thing is compared to an iphone like expirence is about as dumb as can be. You go android so you can do everything an iphone can do and then 10 times more in a better more personalized way to fit your needs. people use windows over the apple os so they can actually do things they need and do them simply without having to convert what they did on their mac to work with the work and everyday machines that rule the world.
      • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version


        "People dislike the "iphone like" way of doing thinbgs with its heavy limitations and ugly UI."

        Then explain why everyone is trying to copy the iphone?
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      I think a major fix for the Andriod frag is that each brand has a different connector. That is what should be forced to all using the same.
  • A corporate wish list?

    Android is doomed because all of the corporate sheep want us to buy ??500 tablets.
    • It's not only Android tablets

      My wife's Android phone works great (practically as good as an iphone)!
      My Android phone works like krap! No matter what I do to it, it still misses the mark.

      When you're dealing with a slew of hardware manufacturers; various versions of the OS; and a plethora of carriers (each with their own restrictions and requirements), you have the right formula for something to go wrong for one phone, along with something that might go right on another.
  • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

    My tablet, Acer Iconia A500, is supposed to get an update in April to ICS. One issue of expectations I see is that Android is released by Google/development team very publicly especially since it is based on open-source, then it takes a while for manufacturers to update/test it on their systems. How long is Microsoft's release from RTM to "official"? This is most of what this is except there is no one single "official" date thus allowing competition to help move the updates through the process.
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      @BorgX: Agreed. It would make more sense if Google kept each release under wraps until the OEMs are ready. This is basically how Apple do it. They don't tell us until the updates are ready to roll for their hardware.

      Imagine if the OEMs got Android before we knew about it and got it read. So when Google unveiled it, it would all be ready. That would ensure lots of happy customers.

      The trouble is the disparity from one OEM's release schedule to another is huge.
  • Retention is a problem

    "This (fragmentation) "problem" hasn't prevented Android from taking over more than half of the smartphone markets"-symbolset

    Retention rates:

    89%: iPhone
    39%: HTC
    28%: Samsung
    25%: Motorola

    Fragmentation may be a bigger issue than you think it is.

    Source: UBS as reported here: "Apple's iPhone has 89% retention rate, next nearest hardware is HTC at 39%", AppleInsider, Sep 22, 2011
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      @Falkirk And yet after barely four months with virtually no market share this "fragmentation" problem was declared fatal. Three years later Android has come from nowhere to hold a full half of the global smartphone market.

      It seems the illness is not quite fatal after all.
    • What does this show?

      I don't think these number reflect anything about Android and fragmentation. Android users may change between Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Sony, LG and others while still choosing Android, and perhaps using the same apps. It just shows that using android you're not confined to a hardware vendor.
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      @pweltz: Good point. I'm now very loyal to Android. It's the only mobile OS I'm interested (it's pros far outweigh it's cons) but I'm not particularly loyal to any OEM. It was HTC in the past and is likely to continue to be Samsung in the future but that may change.
    • Exactly


      89%: iPhone -iOS
      39%: HTC -Andoid
      28%: Samsung - Android
      25%: Motorola - Android

      A move from Motorola to Samsung is not an abandonment of Android. So I would bet more are moving from iOS to Android than vice versa.
      So growth is a big factor, Android has that one in the bag :)
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      @Falkirk , yup, the only thing these stats represent, are a users ability to change manufacturer. Take me for example .. I have a HTC Desire HD .. A great phone Yes, but I am just about to buy a Samsung Note, why ?? .. cause I would now like to try another vendors hardware idea. I have not left the Android platform, just swapped manufactures.
      Apple, users are loyal to their brand, and so stay with the only manufacturer it has ... Apple
      Nice try tho ..
  • Amazing that you could type that

    @symbolset since you clearly have both fingers in your ears and are yelling "la, la, la-can't hear you!"
  • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

    @symbolset The reason Android has taken over the smartphone market is because it was available to all the carriers (unlike the iPhone which very recently became available on a 3rd carrier) and the OEMs were cranking out model after model while Apple concentrated on supporting 3 models.
    • RE: Android tablets are doomed without a single OS version

      @Pete "athynz" Athens - We can argue the "why" of it all day - and that's pointless because while we all have differing opinions none can know for sure the why of it. It is an observed fact. It cannot be denied. Android is rocking the world a full three years after this "fragmentation" problem was declared fatal - and there's more fragmentation (choice) today than there has ever been before.

      It seems this "illness" needs no cure. The patient is doing fine. If fragmentation was an issue three years ago and cured, should we expect that now what - 80 percent of handsets would be Android? That seems unlikely.

      Apple's doing great too without this fragmentation - except that now and then they find supply constrained. They're selling pretty much every device they can get manufactured. Without Android to make up the rest of the demand of this logarithmic market growth, what are we to do? Buy Blackberries? Bah!
    • @symbolset

      the why is important in that it can predict financial viability. Which would you rather be? The company splitting 80 percent of a market among ten competitors with a margin of 10% or the ONE company holding 20% with a 40% margin?