The problem with Android tablets - Manufacturers see them as disposable

There's a problem with Android tablets, and oddly enough it's the exact same problem that plagued smartphones before the iPhone came along and changed things.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

There's a problem with Android tablets, and oddly enough it's the exact same problem that plagued smartphones before the iPhone came along and changed things.

The problem is that they're seen as disposable product. By this I don't mean that they're single-use or anything as environmentally unfriendly as that, but rather than manufacturers see the product as finished as soon as it has been sold and see little value in supporting it with regular software updates (at least anything beyond bug fixes). After all, why should they? They've got your money and the only way they're going to get more money is to sell you a new product.

Does this remind you of smartphones in a pre-iPhone world? I owned dozens of smartphones pre the iPhone but I never had any real expectation that the OEM or software maker would release much in the way of updates. You bought something and it was yours, bugs and all. I remember being the proud (for a very short time) owner of an Orange SPV (manufactured by HTC) that was utter junk. I don't remember any updates coming out to make that better. I also owned an E-TEN Glofiish which was also total junk. I owned a Nokia 9000i Communicators (which wasn't junk!) and I don't recall any software updates for that either.

The truth is that it was the iPhone that lead us to expect to see software updates for smartphones. Apple changed that. Now irrespective of why makes your handset, users (power users at any rate) expect to be drip-fed updates on a regular basis.

Now we're in the age of the tablet and we have the same problems. Sure, Apple has continued doing what it did with the iPhone an releasing regular updates for the iPad. It's a good idea because it keeps users engaged with the product. But what about Android tablets?

Well, I encourage you to read the latest post by my ZDNet blogging buddy Jason Perlow - Dear Google: Here's your roadmap out of Android Honeycomb hell. I agree with Perlow (why wouldn't I , he's a smart guy ... like me) that Google needs to make some big changes. A mobile hypervisor that separated the hardware from the OS would be massively advantageous and make updating the OS much easier. I also like Perlow's idea for a clear End of Life roadmap for devices too. Consumers need to have a clear idea of what to expect in terms of updates.

But all this means a change in how manufacturers look at their product. And an important part of this change will be seeing a product as having a lifespan beyond just selling it and then hoping to sell the next version.

Problem is, this isn't as easy to achieve with Android as it is with say iOS. OEMs don't have a vested interest in keeping users sweet beyond hoping that they keep hold of their product long enough so they can't take it back to the store. There's nothing that really differentiates one tablet from another, and worse still, no way for an OEM to lock consumers into their tablet. The only company that can sort thsi mess out is Google, and so far Google aren't showing any real interest in doing that.

I worry about Android. It's an OS that I think has great potential, but it is having its reputation tarnished first by the flood of cheap junk tablets flooding the market, another blow by OEMs who only care about sales in the now, and a final blow from Google for releasing Honeycomb when it is clearly not ready for primetime. The problem is, I don't think that Google has the experience in the areas necessary to keep Android. I hope the company learns fast ...

What do you think? Is all happy in the Android camp, or has Honeycomb shown that the cracks have starting to form?

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