Google's Nexus 7: Android tablets have the same old problems

Google's Nexus 7: Android tablets have the same old problems

Summary: Initial sales of the new Jelly Bean-powered Nexus 7 have been strong, but that doesn't fundamentally change user acceptance issues of Google's OS on most Android tablets.


Back in January of this year I wrote an article about why I felt that Ice Cream Sandwich, Google's latest and greatest mobile OS at the time, would have very little impact on Android's ability to succeed in the tablet market.

And you know what? I was right.

Also Read: Why Ice Cream Sandwich Won't be Able to Save Android Tablets

Since that article was written, sales of Android tablets in Q1 of in 2012 were abysmal when compared to Apple's iPad.

As of May 2012, market research firm NPD reported that the iPad had approximately 62% of the tablet market, with Samsung running at a distant second place at 7.5% and Amazon's Kindle Fire at about 4%.  

So why has Android been doing so badly?

My original article noted that Android was rife with many stability and performance issues.

Much of this has appeared to have changed for the better, at least with the Nexus 7 running Jelly Bean. I've owned the Nexus 7 for several days, and I am happy to report that it seems to be a stable and well-performing device, and Google and Asus should be commended for releasing an excellent product. 

However, OEMs releasing Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich-based tablet products have not been doing so well. ASUS itself had a number of issues with rolling out ICS upgrades to its own Transformer tablets. Other vendors, including Android market leader Samsung have also struggled to get their own ICS updates out the door.

Many of these products will never get officially upgraded to Jelly Bean and there's a lot of inventory of these tablets still sitting in the channel.

So Nexus 7 aside, the overall perception of Android tablets are that they are buggy, and in terms of overall value, they are also overpriced and are badly supported compared to the competition.

Yes, the Nexus 7 is $200 or $250 depending on which model you buy. But the 10" tablets from the OEMs are still in the $400-$500 range, which are well within the same price point as the entry level iPad 3, which has a much higher resolution display and has many more tablet optimized apps, which are now over 225,000 strong. 

By comparison, Android only has a few thousand apps at most which are actually optimized to run at full-size tablet resolutions. The Nexus 7's 1280x800 display is actually much closer to a high-end smartphone screen -- not unlike the 1280x720 pixel display on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus or the Galaxy S3, so it doesn't seem like it has an app gap to most end-users.

And until we see some very compelling and relatively inexpensive 10" Android hardware, we're not going to see a lot of tablet-optimized apps coded for Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean 4.x, because developers know that their energies are best devoted to writing Android smartphone apps, where the platform is currently enjoying a very strong marketshare.

Besides the pricing and app gap situation, there are other issues which still persist. Jelly Bean may have solved a bunch of performance and reliability issues that were persistent in Honeycomb and ICS, but the overall full-sized tablet UI is still pretty much the same and is still more complicated and harder to use and less intuitive than what exists in iOS. 

For a $200 7" tablet that basically acts like a big smartphone like the Nexus 7, much of these UI and end-user acceptance issues are a lot easier to overlook. But on full-size 10" devices with higher resolution screens and much higher cost, Android's problems are much more pronounced.

It's especially noticeable when you have to use a 10" device in 16:9 landscape mode to do anything other than watch HD video, which feels just plain awkward. Sure, on a Nexus 7 this isn't a problem since you can hold a 7" device in one hand. But that's just not the case with the larger devices.

So the question is does the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean OS fundamentally solve Android's tablet problems? I think all that it has done is reinforced the fact that 7" tablets can succeed with consumers provided they are priced accordingly -- as we saw with Amazon's introduction of the Kindle Fire last year.

However, I don't see Jelly Bean being able to solve the same fundamental problems the regular Android OEMs are experiencing now with tablets which I have outlined above. Not unless they can escape the vicious update cycle and provide better UIs than what Google provides out of the box. 

And if Apple chooses to enter the 7" market with the rumored iPad Mini, or if Amazon can become extremely aggressive in pricing and features with its next 7" Kindle Fire, I believe Android's position this time next year in terms of overall tablet market share is going to look very much the same across the respective OEMs.

Has the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean fundamentally solved Android's tablet issues? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Tablets, Android, Google, Mobile OS


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Saving? Solving the Problem? Dude its just a tablet

    Androids Market share in tablet sales isn't a 'problem' no more than their smartphone market share lead over Apple isn't a big threat to Apple. The Newest product out is their most compelling. The rumored Nexus 10' should be a blast to operate, yet you speak like anyone at Google is losing sleep. And this 'problem' you speak of is for a product no one REALLY needs. its an adult toy.
    • Yep.

      "And this 'problem' you speak of is for a product no one REALLY needs. its an adult toy."

      So true - with once correction: no one needs at current prices. Nexus pushed prices down a bit - so this may change soon.
      • Price doesn't change anything

        Tablets aren't a "needed" device regardless of the price. Very few items we have (especially tech) are actually needed. That being said I might not have needed my tablet but sure glad I have it.
    • Tablets = fad

      No one really needs them.

      There are very few cases in which an ultrabook is not a superior solution, and a tablet without a full sized PC/Mac is not sufficient for anyone.
      • Please help

        I take it you're the guy who decides what everybody needs. I need a million dollars, but the people at the bank told me to pound sand. Could you take time out from your busy schedule to assure the bank that I really do need the million bucks? Thank you.
        Robert Hahn
        • .. who decides what everybody needs ...

          Thanks for your comment! One of the best I've seen in a long time ...
        • Funny

          It's funny how many jokers come to these forums and tell "us" what we need or don't need. I mostly read these comments just to get a laugh.

          • Agreed

            It's always fun to see people who obviously sit at a desk all day telling those of us who are rarely at our desk exactly what we need to do our jobs. We'd be lost without them. ;)

            Personally, I have always needed an iPad. The problem was, I only had bulky laptops and netbooks to get me through the many years until iPads were finally introduced. Now, my laptops and netbook gather dust on a shelf. Haven't touched them in a few years. Does everyone need a tablet? No. But there are an awful lot of us out here who have waited forever for devices like these. Saying nobody needs a tablet just shows your ignorance on the subject.
      • People don't buy what they need

        They buy what they want. And this one's got "want" written all over it.
      • Tablets and Ultrabooks are Different

        Prior to using a Nexus 7, I might have agreed with you, but although I still think tablets are toys for adults, I have to admit that the Nexus/Jelly Bean combination is far superior to a laptop for some things, such as consuming content. I can read all the same sources on a notebook, but it takes more effort. Fad? I don't know — millions upon millions of people seem to feel differently. From years and years in computer support, I am convinced that the average person is completely incapable of maintaining a full-fledged desktop OS, such as OS X, Windows, or Linux. Something that does "only" as much as a tablet or a Chromebook may actually be a better solution for these people.
        • More effort?

          Could you please elaborate? A tablet has restrictions, a desktop or laptop do not.
          • More Effort

            It takes more effort to sit in a chair at a desk and read a book on a computer screen when you can relax on a couch or on the deck in a lounge chair and hold a 7" tablet in one hand and read while drinking your favorite beverage. It takes more effort to browse the internet on a laptop rather than doing so while relaxing in bed and browsing during commercial breaks in your favorite program. It's great to sit under an umbrella on the beach and watch an episode of your favorite TV program. Let's see you do that with a desktop. Sure you can do it with a laptop, but it is far more comfortable to use a tablet. Tablets are primarily a toy. People who buy them do so to consume content. They are more relaxing to use than either a laptop or desktop.
          • More effort?

            I just bought a Dell XPS 13 and we also have the iPad 1. Guess which device gets more daily use?

            One advantage that laptops still and always will have is that you can read them HANDS-FREE.

            I don't see how hands-free is "more effort" than holding with one hand?
            Woz Jobs
          • moah efforts

            Having used this brand spanking new Nexus 7 tablet in these assorted situations:

            Many a toilet.
            In bed
            On bus
            Sitting in an audience
            Under a tree
            Waiting for girlfriend to purchase shoes

            I believe these have tremendous advantage
            Marlon Luna
          • How is a laptop more hands free?

            I assume you mean because it sits on the desk or table and you don't have to hold it but guess what, so can any tablet. How do you scroll or change pages on the laptop hands free? Takes more effort that it does on a tablet.
          • You are correct, but

            those restrictions you mention are irrelevant for most data consumption that can be done really well on a smaller tablet like the Nexus. Especially things you want to check on the fly, quickly, and for entertainment.

            One very good example of what I mean is checking movie showing in your neighborhood. On a tablet, you simply open Flixster, and you're there because it knows where you are due to using GPS.

            Yes, you can find that data on a ultrabook but it would take much longer. And once user's find a way to do something quicker and easier, they rarely go back to the way they used to do it. It's one reason newspapers are in decline.
      • tablets are extremely useful

        in keeping small kids quiet. Notebooks are bulkier and less kid resistant.
        As such, it is an indispencible tool.
    • Androids Market share in tablet sales isn't a problem?

      if you don't get the ROI, it becomes a BIG problem.
      William Farrel
    • Wide screen aspect ratio is superior

      I beg to differ with regards to the wide screen aspect ratio of android tablets.
      It is superior to the ipad in almost every way. Of course watching movies is better on a wide screen, but it is also better for games because the experience is more immersive (try playing your PS3/Xbox games on a 4:3 old TV). It is also better for web browsing. 10" android tablets have 1280x800 resolution which is the same as my laptop, so full I can browse *FULL* web sites with no problems, negating the need for many so-call 'apps' (why do you need an app for each web site? Good luck trying to find your app among a sea of icons). And I don't need to to learn a new UI when browsing a full web site: I know exactly where thing are and don't have to settle for a cut-down versions with less functionality.

      A widescreen 7" tablet makes sense because it is wide enough for web browsing in landscape mode. Good luck to Apple if they decide to release a 7" 4:3 screen. This is probably why Steve Jobs said 7" form factor would be "dead on arrival". He was playing with one in the wrong aspect ratio.
      • Indeed

        And with the 4:3 aspect ratio it would still be too awkward to hold with one hand even because it would still be just too wide in portrait mode.