Android tablets: Death by data plan

Android tablets: Death by data plan

Summary: The need to commit to expensive data plans for Android tablets make competing with the iPad almost impossible.


Updated: Apple is kicking Android tablets soundly in the market, and the business model is a big reason why. Sure the iPad is sleek and has a billion apps in the App Store, but that alone is not why it is trouncing Android in the tablet market. A big reason is the data plan, or lack thereof with the iPad.

There are now Android tablets with outstanding hardware components, and others at prices cheaper than the iPad. They still don't sell in numbers that make a dent in iPad sales. Consumers flock to the iPad for the standard reasons, compelling design, good marketing among them, but a big reason is the ease of purchase. There are only a few choices to make when buying an iPad, memory and color primarily, and the big one -- Wi-Fi or 3G.

Tablets are highly mobile devices, and having integrated 3G is a good thing to get online just about anywhere. Not having to depend on finding a hotspot is a liberating thing, and Apple realized that in the beginning. That is why it negotiated the deal with AT&T to provide mobile data connectivity without a contract. Pay as you go is a brilliant streak to simplify the decision at purchase time. If you need 3G connectivity, turn it on and pay for a month of usage only when needed.

The lack of a no-contract data plan is killing Android, a slow, painful death in the marketplace. Buyers wanting mobile data are faced with a two-year commitment on top of an expensive tablet. While a Wi-Fi tablet can be selected, it is more restrictive than a 3G/4G enabled tablet. To prospective buyers determined to have 3G in the new tablet, many will just go with the iPad.

Carriers don't seem willing to offer Android tablets with month-to-month data, and as 4G tablets become the norm so will expensive data plans. High-end Android tablets can already be expensive, and throw in a two-year commitment for $30 - $80 on top of that and they can be out of the reach of most consumers.

Buy an Android tablet for $500 - $600 plus $50/month for two years, or an iPad 2 for $600 plus $20/month only when needed. Game might as well be over.

Update: This article was written from the standpoint that regular mainstream consumers, not the tech-savvy crowd who know how to compare the offerings, simply walk into a shop and walk out with a purchase. These folks don't compare hardware specs and don't follow the details of the various carrier data plans. They just know they don't want a two-year commitment for a tablet.

While it is always buyer beware, the vast majority of consumers are just not familiar enough with how this stuff works. Those are the consumers this article addresses. Most do not know anything about tethering a phone to a tablet, nor do they even know how to research for month-to-month plans. They walk into a Verizon/AT&T (or other carrier) store where they try their darnedest to sell them a contract.

See also:

Topics: Android, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Apple is better at negotiating, apparently

    Unfortunate as it is, other manufacturers and Google can't get away with the same demands as Apple. I just don't understand why carriers don't use tablets as a hook with special pricing on tethering plans. Use them to attract customers and to sell phones instead of the gouging approach. Why not allow them to use their cell phone data plan to tether their tablet? or what about 10GB family data that has been rumored. I just can't see ever buying a tablet with a separate data plan when I use very little data that I already pay for, especially when it can already be shared. What is keeping Motorola from selling the new Xyboards through Best Buy with wifi only?
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

      @bstringy Why don't you just get a second SIM for the current contract? Mine allows me to run up to 3 devices on the one contract (E.g. smartphone, laptop and tablet).
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        Can I use all android applicaton in this tablet?
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        Thank for this news......
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

      @bstringy You can always get a mobile hot spot that can serve all your device needs. Clear has unlimited, no contract options.
      • Cheapest and Best


        Works great!!!!
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @JoeFoerster - Will a mobile hot spot work where Clear does not have coverage? For example, sailing along the coast of Texas? We can always get an ATT 3G signal. If we can get that will a mobile hot spot help us use our gear down there? Thank you.
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @Forensics1 Depends on the Clear device and plan. I have two Clear hotspots, one is 4G only and the other is 3G/4G. You are unlimited on your 4G but 3G which it will default to if no 4G coverage is available is limited to 5GB/Mo if I remember correctly.
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

      @bstringy "other manufacturers and Google can't get away with the same demands as Apple. <br><br>In fact Google can make some demands. The 3G Google Chromebooks come with 2 years of data at no added cost. It's only 100mb/month, but I have never used up my entire quota. If I were to do so, a 24-hour unlimited day pass, or multiple monthly data buckets (1gb, 3gb, 5gb) are available for purchase.
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

      @bstringy The article is WRONG. The cheapest iPad 3G model is $630 on up, not $500. The $500 version is WiFi only so you can't spend that $20/month for 3G access even if you wanted. And that $20/month is also WRONG. It's $25/month on AT&T for 2Gb and $30/month on Verizon for 2Gb and $50/month for 5Gb.

      By comparison, a 4G LTE tablet from Verizon is $300 (Moto Xoom) with a $30/mo for 2Gb, $50/mo for 5Gb and $80/mo for 10Gb..... GUESS WHAT??? These are the same rate plans as Apple's... the difference is the contract and the price of the tablet... in Apple's case you pay minimum $630 and as high as $830 for the iPad and then $30, $50 or $80/mo
      In Verizon's case with the 4G LTE Xoom, you pay $300 for the tablet and $30, $50, or $80/mo for 2 years. If you need mobile access for your tablet each and every month, you will pay $330 more for an iPad. If you need only occasionally, I tell people get a WiFi only and tether wirelessly via bluetooth to your 4G LTE phone via PdaNet Tablet, a free app. I use my Asus TF that way and has worked flawlessly....

      BTW, it would be nice if you do some 2min research first before basing your whole article on false information
      • I second your entire comment.

      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @larryvand - after being a computer repair& etc... store owner for 20 years I can tell you that almost every one of my thousands of customers would have a heart attack at tethering and with the procedure you just described, they would just go ahead and jump into the grave first. For older people, and many younger people, computers, Pads, Tablets, netbooks, laptops, etc... are still extremely frustrating. And these people come from all walks of life and all intelligence levels. Apple knows this. People will pay more, if they have more, simply for ease of use and reliability. Older people have more money, younger people have more experience with computers, they will both gravitate towards Apple. I started with Apple in 1982 and then had to switch to IBM clones for business. Today I am trying hard to get back to Apples.
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @larryvand I think your costs for Android tablet are a little low, but I agree with what you suggest. In fact, I basically bought close to what you suggest.<br><br>I bought an Acer A500 Android tablet, current price $350 with Wifi only. I pay $30/month additional for hotspot on my Droid Bionic which gives me 3.3 Mbits per second at the tablet. I am a lucky one who "grandfathered" into unlimited data and hotspot, but reallistically use less than 2GB on the tablet most months.<br><br>Using my numbers, you pay $350 for the tablet plus $360 first year for hotspot for a total of $710 the first year. Using your numbers the iPad is $630 plus $240 for a year of 2GB of 3G access or $870 the first year.<br><br>As far as ease of use, once you enable the hotspot and select it it from the available WiFi sources, you never need to deal with it again, or one can save money on a limited hotspot by selecting between available WiFi sources. Still not exactly something that qualifies for a PhD in computer science.
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @larryvand :Fully agree - I've yet to see an iPad 3G user who can refrain from using their 3G for an entire month. So, contract or no, they end up paying the same - they just may not have a conscious knowledge of that fact until each month when the bill comes in.
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @larryvand AT&T iPad 3G data plans start at $14.99.
      • Not for "regular" folks

        @larryvand It's beta, it doesn't always work (and then on just some phones), and it sure as hell isn't for the regular consumer crowd.
      • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

        @larryvand - I agree with Larryvand. Forensics1 comment only tells me that when all the elderly people are gone, Apple will have buried it's market by not appealing to a customer base that likes to think outside of the box, and prefers to beat the system rather than deposit the requested amount in it.

        I feel that it's important to teach people, not give them a handout or a free pass. This nanny mentality is why no one of the Baby Boomer generation understands anything about computers, etc.
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan

      @bstringy pretty simple solution for Android phone users... root your phone and use wifi tethering...
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan


      Here in the UK I don't have a tablet. I have a 2 year old iphone, and I have a pay as you go (PAYG) data plan , unlimited data, that costs me ??7.50 a month. ( With GiffGaff). I'm laughing. A bit further down the way, I'll get a second-user tablet and again use a PAYG dataplan for much the same price. I probably won't get an Ipad, it's just too much like a characterless piece of plastic !
    • RE: Android tablets: Death by data plan