The bumpy road ahead for Android tablets in 2014

The year 2013 has seen the introduction of many Android tablets. Things might not be very rosy in 2014.

Yoga 8 and Yoga 10 (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Tablets have been hot commodoties since the iPad's success, and there have been no shortage of Android models to entice shoppers. Last year saw the introduction of many models from the major players in the mobile space. These companies debuted tablets right and left, and they may not have left much in the tank for 2014.

Just as they have with smartphones, Samsung has dominated the Android tablet space for a year or so. They have both Galaxy Tab and Note models in a range of sizes to cover what they believe is the majority of buyers.

Lenovo has been a big player in Android tablets too, with a line of budget tablets. It capped off 2013 by getting Ashton Kutcher to pitch two new Android tablets with an innovative design .

While these two are the major players, Google's been around with the Nexus line of tablets, although those are made by others in the space. Then there's Acer and Asus making devices, along with scores of no-name Asian companies churning out cheap tablets by the truck full.

With all of this activity in the Android tablet world in 2013, it leaves one to wonder what can possibly be coming in 2014? There's not a lot of room for innovative designs given what's already available, so it's not clear how the OEMs can produce something new this year.

We may see a race to the bottom with pricing, as a lack of innovation makes it hard to differentiate otherwise.

When you look at existing Android tablets, they are all basically the same with the exception of Lenovo's Yoga 8 and 10. They are thin, light slates with roughly equivalent processors and memory. They have memory slots to augment system storage, and the typical audio/video ports.

Speaking of the Yoga tablets, the unique design by Lenovo hasn't seemed to be enough to shoot them ahead of the pack. We haven't heard much else about them since the flashy launch event. I've never seen one in the wild, either.

How to differentiate their new tablets must be keeping the design teams at the OEMs up nights. They need something new to catch the eye of prospective buyers, and it needs to be hardware. All Android tablets run the same OS with minor differences, and that's not going to do the trick.

While it's not clear what can be done to push the Android tablet forward, I won't be surprised if we see Samsung or Lenovo introduce a 10-inch tablet with a Surface-style keyboard cover. No one's done that with Android and since Microsoft has been making a lot of noise with the Touch and Type Covers, it makes sense to capitalize on the "real work" advertising. This won't be new, rather playing catchup to Microsoft.

Other than that, 2014 may be like 2013 when it comes to Android tablets. More sizes, refreshed models, and more of the same. We may see a race to the bottom with pricing, as a lack of innovation makes it hard to differentiate otherwise. Cheap pricing may be the only way.

Tablet competition is heating up with alternatives to Android that may start chewing into the platform's strong position.

While it's not clear how successful Microsoft has been with Windows tablet sales, its ads are everywhere in the US. A lot of buyers find the ability to run Office to be a good thing, something Android tablet makers can't offer.

There's also that pesky Amazon with its line of Kindle Fire tablets. While technically Android, the Kindle Fires are set apart from the pack in three areas: great hardware, unique user-friendly UI, and highly competitive pricing.

In 2014 iPads will continue to give Android tablet makers fits. There's no telling what Apple has in store for the new year's model.

There's a bumpy road ahead for Android tablets, and OEMs better find a way to make their offerings unique and attractive to prospective buyers.

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