The failing of Android as a tablet platform

The failing of Android as a tablet platform

Summary: My personal preference for Android aside, I have to be honest and state that Android is failing as a tablet platform compared to the competition. Google has let it happen, and only Amazon can resolve it.


I like Android. I own both a tablet and a smartphone running Android, and I find them both to be great mobile devices. I have tested and reviewed dozens of phones and tablets running some form of Android, and for the most part I have liked them all. My personal preference for Android aside, I have to be honest and state that Android is failing as a tablet platform compared to the competition.

Why would an Android enthusiast make that statement? Because the patchwork that is Android is not consistent enough to allow the platform to compete adequately with the competition. Google has set out to be loose in its control over Android as a platform, and that looseness is beginning to cost tablet makers millions, perhaps billions of dollars. The problem is there is no real Android for tablets, just a framework for OEMs to change at will to try and compete with their products. The problem is they are not competing with other platforms, they end up competing with other Android tablet makers and diluting the ability of the platform to make a run at Apple's iPad.

What has precipitated this rant? Yet another debacle of mind-blowing proportions. Earlier this year Motorola released the very first tablet running Honeycomb, the platform-defining tablet to take on the popular iPad. The XOOM had every feature that could be crammed into a thin form, including one that even the vaunted iPad lacks. Motorola put a microSD card slot in the XOOM so owners could greatly augment the system storage. The problem was this slot did not work on shipping units. That's right, a primary hardware feature on this "iPad killer" did not work at all. It just took up space, added weight (albeit not much) and added cost to the buyer.

Motorola quickly jumped in after the XOOM release and said support for this memory card slot would be coming soon. That didn't happen, even with the recent major upgrade to Android 3.1 that rolled out. XOOM owners were surprised to find the SD slot still didn't work after this big system update.

Months later comes word from Motorola in Europe that an update to enable this dead hardware will finally be rolling out for XOOM owners, but only outside the U. S. The SD card fix will be part of the Honeycomb 3.1 update for non-US XOOMs. No word when the U. S. models will get the fix, and no word from Motorola explaining why the 3.1 update in the U. S. didn't include the fix as will the non-US update.

So you're wondering why this bothers me, not even owning a XOOM? Because it is symptomatic of the problem with Android in general, that the platform is totally fragmented due to no one company taking ownership of it as a platform. Google certainly doesn't, and OEMs can't. The end result is that Android tablet makers end up not competing with the iPad, the logical target, but rather with each other. Each Android tablet comes to market with different hardware (most of which actually works), and software that is different from that which ships with Android proper.

Consumers have no chance to make sense of this, so there will never be a uniform perception of the platform. Perception of a product is hugely important, and unless Google does something it will never catch consumer's attention uniformly as a platform must do.

The one potential light in this Android tablet debacle is the Amazon tablets expected later this year. I am confident that Amazon, while using Android as the core software, will put its own spin on its tablets. They will not be Android tablets, they will be Amazon tablets. The company will own the product from top to bottom, and customers will understand that. I expect we'll see a completely different user interface on the Amazon tablets that will make it clear "this is our product." If they take this approach then Android has a chance to get serious in the tablet space, even if consumers aren't aware of it.

See also:

Topics: Hardware, Android, Google, 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
  • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

    That's a pretty big fail. It's not hard to implement an SD card slot. This is why I like my Windows tablet a whole lot better - A full PC, in the palms of my hand.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

      @Cylon Centurion
      exactly, if you need full PC operation in your palm, even though it is bad at power management, buy Windows Tablet. If your requirement doesn't need more than surfing and content consumption probably iPad is better choice. Android Tablets miserably failed, even though I own Galaxy Tab and G-Slate, I use my HTC Shift and iPad 2 for my personal and professional work more often, OTOH Galaxy Tab and G-Slate are eating dust whenever I am not building apps for Android(s).
      Ram U
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        Ipad and the Ipad 2 suck. Until they can support 100% of all websites they are worthless. And I do own both and a Xoom. I use the Xoom all the time now. the 2 ipads are sitting on a shelf being a waist of money
        • re: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

          I have to agree with Parker, my son in law has an ipad2 don't you apple fans love that 2.0 Mega pixel camera? How about all the web sites you can't on your apple because the I products have a problem with flash. All this is moot now that the xoom supports the card. The iPad 3 finally has a better camera but you still have e better browser options in the Android devices.
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        @rparker009 Way to troll there pal. You obvious never used an iPad and are trying to justify your Xoom purchase. How is that SD card slot working for you?

        I can connect to me home iMac with the iPad logmein client, connect to meetings with webex, gotomeeting or clients. I can edit documents on the iPad with Office2 HD or the iWorks apps. Or I can create/edit drawings with Adobe Ideas, Sketchbook, Bamboo Paper or PenUltimate.

        Maybe you should take a closer look.
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        you're pretty good at trolling yourself, you ask how the SD card is working out for the xoom users, i could ask an ipad user the same thing, i would never buy a xoom, or an ipad, i would probably go with an acer, or elocity a7 and then put a custom rom on it, i, as well as my family's business, need a host usb port, as well as an SD card slot and Flash for work, normally we use a laptop or our android phones(but they dont have a host USB) I have yet to find something that the ipad2 can do that my us cellular HTC desire with a custom rom, can't do including video chat on 3G
        Feds Against Guns
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        @Feds Against Guns Your not bad yourself! btw there is an attachment for the iPad for an SD Card slot.

        I'm not a huge fan of the iPad, but your post made me laugh a bit. (a lot) Like aristotle said, you have Sketchbook, you have vnc or logmein to connect to your home computer, an app store that actually has some decent apps, and of course multi touch.
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        I think my post hurt you so badly and forced you to flag it. I don't have love for inanimated objects that too technology, because they evolve continuously. I stand by my word about Android devices because I can't update my Galaxy Tab legally even though it can support Gingerbread and Honeycomb, I am stuck with Froyo period. Same is true with my Atrix 4G. HTC finally upgraded my EVO 4g to Gingerbread, but next upgrade, I think HTC and Sprint will show their rear end and pull the plugs of HTC EVO 4G from supporting. Where as I could easily upgrade my iPads to iOS 5 guaranteed by apple, can Google do the same? No it can't because google is busy in collecting private information and lend it to its partners (advertisers and such) leaving Android to Carriers and Makers to rape. This was the same thing Microsoft did with its Windows Mobile and Google without really thinking about it just copied Microsoft in regards to leaving updates to Carriers and Makers jurisdiction. I know reality hurts you.
        Ram U
      • I wrote this article!!

        Not really. But I could have.
        Having owned three frustrating Android tablets this year I finally bit the bullet and bought an iPad. It brings me pleasure which the Android tablets couldn't... they just didn't measure up. Not that they couldn't have if everything had been right, but they didn't for the reasons already mentioned in this article.

        Maybe someday in the distant future I will jump ship and go with Android once again... if and when they ever really get their shattered act together.
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        I tried to use a Windows 7 Tablet - no way to use - the keyboard uses all screen - there?s no practical way to use it
        Try typing in Excel or Word , in a Windows 7 , and you are going to understand that?s no possible to use it.
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        @Rama.NET <br>I have used different kinds of Handhelds and SmartPhones for about 15 years.<br>I already used:<br>-Palm - loved It (first Palm versions - M100, etc)<br>-HTC Windows CE - good product<br>-2 Apple Iphone - I loved them<br>As a profession, I am a Computer Technician (Linux Servers, etc)<br><br>Now i bought a Android 2.2.1 Viewsonic 7 inches<br>and I got VERY VERY VERY Disappointed:<br>-My Viewsonic Android has 512 MB of internal memory and 4 GB in a SD CARD, but when I try to install new apps I get the message "Sorry, Theres not enough Space to install this item"<br><br>The memory problems to install Apps persists.I searched in the Internet and I found out that are a lot of persons with the same problem.<br><br>I am a computer technician - Linux servers, etc<br>I use also 2 Apple Iphone (i love them)<br>I am disappointed with this Huge memory problems in Android<br><br>I also found in the Internet that are a Android 70 apps Limit. This is true ? What a **** !<br><br>I think that a product must be Ready when we buy. I dont agree in have to use Rootkits, download and install news ROMS, etc - I dont have time to do it.<br>I use my Iphone without any rootkit, without any new ROMS.<br>Why Android has this memory problem?s ??<br>Why they put a bad product in the market ?

        I think Android has a good future, but at this moment, this memory problem takes Android to the Last position.
      • To aristotle_z - You're not entirely objective !

        a) I have an ipad and iphone free from work, but choose to leave them simless and just use for comparing user issues.

        b) I chose to buy an Asus transformer with my cash.

        c) Why would I do that? Because I like the keyboard functions. Because I like it all joined up, or detachable (but have to say its 90% attached so that tells a story in itself) I like to plop media in WITHOUT attaching to a PC/MAC etc... the slots allow me to do exactly that without being tethered to AN itunes PC/MAC. I browse the web and see it perfectly; I see iplayer perfectly; I see itunes perfectly.

        Add to that a built in HDMI and I'm way more flexible and happy spending my ?420 than using a free ipad.

        If I needed itunes that might be a good reason to look more at the ipad, but I dont.

        You are being partisan and refusing to see any benefits in some Android implementations. That 'some' is the key.... Google do need to reign in the low end stuff and those low end devices need to clearly market there limitations (which can be many).
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform


        Ah, the old "no Flash" argument. You should be glad that iPad does not support Flash. Flash is the biggest pig of software with little redeeming value. Be glad that it will be gone in a few years thanks to the iPad.
    • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

      @Cylon Centurion

      What was that in the palm of your hand ?
      Alan Smithie
      • Message has been deleted.

      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        @Alan Smithie: Palm of hand sure, admittedly at 4.5 lb not as light as a Tablet but light enough to carry all day, convenient enough to use in a stand-up meeting and take handwritten notes, all info at your fingertips, comfortably 6 hours+ battery life, powerful enough for full office work or even to play real PC games on.... I'd never be able to go back.
    • Keep dreaming Cylon...

      Windows tablet Hahaha!
      @Cylon Centurion
      • RE: The failing of Android as a tablet platform

        @evandroks IT'S= Over The Air. If you don't know even that much, I'm not sure Android is the right platform of choice for you. Clearly, you need something more suited to your simple needs.
      • Windows tablet

        @GoPower wrote
        "Keep dreaming...Windows tablet Hahaha!"

        Why the laughter? Are you forgetting that Windows XP came in a Tablet edition that not only runs all Windows XP software, but also has full handwriting recognition? I edit all my research papers (30-40 pages) on one. We've been using them in patient care since the mid-2000s. Sure beats writing patient notes in paper charts.

        Windows tablets have been around since around 2001 so what was the "Keep dreaming" and "Hahaha" all about?

        And consider this. Despite the popularity of iPads, Windows tablets still have more apps than iPads and Android tablets combined because it can run all Windows XP software, and most Vista/Windows 7 software (depending on the CPU). And we're not talking about Lite versions. I run the complete MS Office Suite on my tablet. Do any iPad or Android app even come close? Nope ... trying to read/edit a full-fledged academic paper in Documents-to-Go is futile because we use complicated tables, mathematical fonts, intricate formatting, embedded graphics, etc.

        So are you still laughing?
      • &quot;Windows Tablet&quot;


        This kind of argument reminds me of a conversation that I had once with a cab driver. He told me he didn't need a computer, because the only thing he would want to do with it would be email and the only person he would ever want to email is his sister. She had a computer with a modem, and since Windows came bundled with fax software, he could just buy a used fax machine and fax her instead of email. She could respond by writing a Word document and printing through the fax driver.

        Just as with the cab driver's argument, nothing you said is factually incorrect. Likewise, your choice of solution is awful.