Google exec suggests hardware partners need to improve lackluster Android tablets

Google exec suggests hardware partners need to improve lackluster Android tablets

Summary: Has the race for the lowest-priced tablet eroded quality?

SHARE:
TOPICS: Tablets, Android, Google
39
android-tablets-walmart-google

Google's release of the new Nexus 7 again highlights an area of concern for the overall Android ecosystem: That tablet's hardware seems to be well ahead of many of its competitors.

While you might think Google would be pleased with the competitive advantage, that doesn't appear to be the case, according to recent comments made by Google VP of Android product management Hugo Barra. Barra told The Verge that he is underwhelmed by the tablets that many other manufacturers have released using Google's Android OS:  "I really do think that the Android ecosystem hasn't yet put its best foot forward, when it comes to tablets."

Of course, part of that comes with the territory, given that the operating system is free for any device maker to use with its hardware. That's led to sub-$100 (even sub-$50) bargain tablets from no-name vendors that can hype that they run the Jelly Bean flavor of Android, but rely on cheap processors, low-res screens, and other minimal specs to do it. One consequence is that tablet-optimized apps for Android are less prevalent than Barra (and users) would like.

The banner above shows a selection of such models available from Walmart.com, but even the Slate 7 offered from major manufacturer HP has been marred by substandard hardware used to keep its price down. In contrast, the latest Nexus 7 comes with a new quad-core Snapdragon processor, 2GB of memory (versus the Slate 7's 1GB), 16GB or 32GB of storage (the Slate 7 comes with 8GB), and a 1,920x1,200 resolution (compared to the Slate 7's 1,024x600). Yes, the 16GB Nexus 7 costs $90 more than the Slate 7, but delivers a much better user experience and is still $100 less than the Apple iPad Mini.

Of course, there are exceptions like Samsung's Galaxy tablets and the effort Amazon has made to spruce up its Kindle Fire tablets (even if it tries to disguise their Android underpinnings). But Apple, and even Microsoft for its Windows 8 tablets, retain more quality control over the hardware that powers their operating systems, which has forced Google to lead by example (and resort to using a bully pulpit) in order to push its fellow Android partners to focus on a more polished product, rather than just a cheaper one.

The spec trickle-down should be expected as higher-res screens and more capable mobile processors become more widely available at lower prices. In the meantime, do you agree with Barra that the Android tablet experience is less than what it could be? What would it take to improve it? Let us know your thoughts in the Talkback section below.

Topics: Tablets, Android, Google

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

Talkback

39 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • And people wonder why iPads are used so much more.

    With Google, it has ALWAYS been about QUANTITY and never about QUALITY. Even Google's Nexus 7 has been plagued by delaminating screens, batteries that degrade over time quickly, severe light leakage, low quality SSD storage that might drive sub-standard device performance and the list goes on. In short, there is a reason the smaller screened Nexus 7 is $100 cheaper than an iPad mini. To make a quality tablet at the level of the iPad costs about as much as an iPad. If you want to come in cheaper, you HAVE to cut quality corners to do it.

    This has led to the iPad being used more and more as a percentage of web traffic and advertising revenue even as $50 Android tablets gets purchased more.
    Bruizer
    • Agreed. Nice to see Google acknowledge what I've said all along.

      When ever the usual bloggers point out that "Android is the top tablet/Phones OS", I've pointed out that that isn't something you want to brag about considering where the majority of those Android install live - on cheap to free tablet and phones.

      Look at the ad above - a $44 tablet? That may add to the Android usage numbers, but I doubt that Google would want to be associated with the performance something like that would have to give.

      I agree, iPad is doing so well at $499 vs. a $44 to $139 tablet is because you are getting a quality product, and you know what to expect, which isn't what a 44 dollar tablet will be able to provide.
      William Farrel
      • The tablets shown in the article's ad are not OHA tablets

        These $44 to $139 tablets use Android Open Source Project (AOSP) source code and the manufacturers of these tablets aren't Google's hardware partners. Does this mean that AOSP tablets are junk? Nope. Examples of good quality AOSP tablets include those manufactured for Amazon (Fire HD tablets) and Barnes & Noble (Nook HD tablets). Google is NOT associated with AOSP tablets.

        Probably the best tablet deal going today are Barnes & Noble's AOSP HD and HD+ tablets. Good quality tablets at a low price: the 7-inch HD starts at $129 U.S. and the 9-inch HD+ starts at $149 U.S. And the best part? They now get Google Play.

        Here's the list of OHA members:

        http://www.openhandsetalliance.com/oha_members.html

        Google's hardware partners are members of the Open Handset Alliance. Can you find any? Not only does ASUS manufacture the Nexus 7 for Google, it also manufactures the Transformer series tablets. And ASUS Transformer series tablets are not lackluster tablets.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • You can't price android tablets like the iPad

        Not yet, android tablets are now becoming a solid option also on tablets.
        Like in smartphones there are android tablets for all tastes, I doubt many are getting those stub $100 tablets. Most of them have real bad displays among other bad things - having said that they can be great to connect to an audio amplifier and stream internet radio.
        AleMartin
    • Hahahahahaha

      You should really try the new Nexus! It is significantly better than the iPad Mini and is every bit as fluid in spite of the fact that it is more than 2x the resolution.
      slickjim
    • Re: And people wonder why iPads are used so much more.

      ARE they used so much more? Or are a lot of IOS apps just continually polling websites without their users realizing?
      ldo17
    • Questionable arguments

      You're free to like the iPad or the iPad mini more. But this comment reflects an unreasonable bias. Disclosure: I love the full size iPad. Apple did very well. I haven't used the mini. My wife has a Nexus 7 (not the newest one they just released) and it's given us 0 problems. She uses it daily and loves it. Anecdotal experience isn't data, but I don't see much in your comment either, and do see telltale warning signs of your bias:

      You list a laundry list of problems you say are common but that runs counter to most reviews and personal experience, including my own. You reveal much when you rate the SSD quality and state that it "might" drive sub standard performance without any evidence of substandard performance... This isn't a future product to speculate on - this is in the wild and has been. The SSDs have either been a problem or they haven't at this point.

      You seem to have started with the assertion that "to come in cheaper [than the ipad Mini] you have to cut quality" and based your argument from there. If Apple lowers the price, they lower quality? Couldn't they lower the price and just accept smaller profit margins? Besides, Apple's success is (IMO) based on their intuitive software design, not on having found the perfect formula for the cheapest materials that still allows hardware quality.

      Your closing statement assumes causality, when the same shift in iPad's share of web-browsing could be declining PC use relative to tablets overall rather than any relative android/iOS quality, and suddenly compares these 7 inch tablets with the full-size iPad's success... give us a break with this zealot stuff from both sides, people!

      I'm not here saying that the Nexus 7 is the best 7-inch tablet (though it was the one I chose at the time of our purchase which as I recall predates the mini) but I am saying your argument is bunk.
      flyyoufools
    • Other New Tablets Released

      One other tablet to launch this week worth a look is the Pipo M7 Pro ($255) that for about the same price as the new Nexus 7, features a much larger 8.9 inch display with 1900 x 1200 screen resolution, a Quad core processor, along with built-in GPS navigation-- and is packed with features that compare to the new Nexus and also offers a MicroSD card slot -- this new model works with both the new Chromecast as well as the more advanced Miracast HD Wireless (like Apple AirPlay); and also features premium speakers, WiFi with both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz frequencies for greater connection, and a premium Windows style User Interface that makes the Android experience much more intuitive and user friendly -- more details are available at Tablet Sprint -- one of the first sites to carry this new model...
      Teresa Waters
    • Nexus &

      Yep and the Nexus 7 is plagued by the wide end bezels. The widest on any tablet that I,ve seen except for the Kindle Fire and it too has wide bezel all the way around. Would have neither . Google needs to do more with design too.
      Jillxz
    • The Upside - Closing the digital divide

      The upside is that Google has made an operating system that is in reach of most Americans. Unlike their competitors, Google can be proud of providing a low cost option for Americans that simply can't afford $300 to $600 for an iOS device.

      BMW 7 Series is a quality car, but some of us can only afford to drive a 3 series. It's nice to have options.
      0331MGN
  • Why do you think Microsoft is moving away from this?

    By producing their own hardware? Also, why do you think PC OEMs have been struggling these past 5+ years?

    When you make cheap junk, everyone suffers.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • PC OEM

      Making a PC is not very profitable.
      symbolset
      • Unless you're Apple

        Unless you're like Apple and charge three times what a comparable PC costs for something that can only do a third of what they can.
        eAbyss
  • Hardware OEMs aren't stupid. They can read the writing on the wall

    Android buyers are the Windows buyers of the Tablet world. So Android tablet OEMs are behaving the same way that Windows OEMs did when they raced to the bottom on price points. By 2009 Apple owned the >$900 notebook market, so Windows OEMs raced down-market, aided and abetted by Netbooks, which has killed the ASP if the Windows notebook world (cf http://winsupersite.com/windows-8/explaining-windows-8-pc-sales-over-holidays). Now it's happening to tablets.

    As the tablet market expands, the iPad's market share decreases, but it's still the largest seller. While the iPad mini has a lower margin than previous iPads, it's still higher than any Android device. So the only "space" for OEMs seems to be in lower-margin devices, which is why you see the examples above. Samsung, with its deep-pockets and extensive experience, isn't making much headway against the iPad with the Galaxy Tabs, US usage still shows iPads with nearly all the web traffic. So if Samsung, the only Android vendor making money, can't make a dent against Apple in the high-end, why would smaller companies even try.

    Google, like Amazon, doesn't have to make any money on it's hardware, it's not a hardware company. Google makes its money from advertising sales, and those ads are more lucrative when The Algorithm has more/better data. So anything that gets Google a greater volume of user data is intrinsically valuable. Nexus devices, with their by definition pure "Google experience" are, almost literally, gold mines of user data, so of course Google is prepared to make what unsustainably small, for a hardware company, margins which of course allows a lower retail price. It's really easy for Google to say, make better hardware and sell it for less, but HP is tired of selling it's products for trivial profits, if any. Of course wasting $1.2 billion on Palm has to make them grouch, too.
    matthew_maurice
    • Re: It's really easy for Google to say

      I only wonder, if some of those Android vendors will not decide to sue Google -- first, for letting Microsoft extort licensing money over Android and second, for dumping on the market, which is illegal in some countries.
      danbi
  • What can make tablets better??

    Samsung has already made the best tablet(s) available. Even the new Google Nexus 7 can't touch my Samsung Galaxy 7.7 GT-P6800. Why? Because the Nexus still doesn't work as a phone. Google is still allowing the Phone Carriers rip the consumers off by making them buy two devices and pay for two data plans or pay extra for hotspot capability on their phone.

    I have the GT-P6800 on a GSM card from Straight Talk.. I sent my daughter a GT-P3100 7 plus on a GSM card from Straight Talk. I am seriously considering buying a GT-P5100 10.1 and using my GSM card from Straight Talk.

    Samsung's line of International quad band GSM talk enabled Tablet PHONES is the current pentacle of the table world.
    CutRightSharpening
  • Repeat performance of Microsoft Windows and cheap PC boxes

    The sad thing is, many many people will get these and think Android sucks. It's not remotely as good or as safe as iOS, but it's not that bad.
    William Donelson
  • I Agree!!!

    They need to take the lead like Google has and offer micro-SD memory card slots, HDMI ports and...oh wait... STILL don't have that on a Nexus device. Thank God for the other people making Android tabs.
    DennyCraneFTW
    • Re: offer micro-SD memory card slots

      Then they have to pay protection money to Microsoft to avoid being sued over the FAT patent.
      ldo17
    • HDMI Out

      The 2013 Nexus 7 does have HDMI out covered with the SlimPort built into the MicroUSB port. You will need a USB to HDMI adaptor though.
      MajorlyCool