[Opinion] Google has Lost the Tablet Market, and it’s Too Late!

Posted Oct 01, 2012 at 3:22 pm in Threads > Opinions

Ya’ll aren’t going to like this post. Sorry.

The very first Android tablets that one could purchase were terrible no-namer tablets from Chinese companies putting a 320MHz processor with what seemed like 64kB of RAM into a cheap plastic box and sold it as a tablet. However, the first Android tablets that really count started with the Xoom, Galaxy Tab, and even the earlier-released Viewsonic GTablet (one of the first “modern” Android tablets, complete with Tegra 2 and all sorts of other neat features). All of these tablets had some things in common and some other things that were very different. They all had respectable hardware inside them, though with some differences. The Galaxy Tab and GTablet came with Gingerbread, which was incredibly unpleasant on a large screen. The Xoom had Honeycomb and, 10 months later, received a software update to enable the rest of the hardware. All of them were ultimately flops.

Tablet Market Share (June '12)

What’s changed since then? Not a ton. There have been about 300 newer tablets that have all been fairly lackluster in performance. We’ve had some very innovative tablets like the ASUS Transformer series and their (my favorite in concept) PadFone tablet, but they’ve seen very limited success. In fact, as of June of this year, Apple claims to own 68% of the market. While there are *some* non-Android tablets out there, we can essentially say the other 32% belongs to Android tablets.

Now, we’ve also seen some products that you can’t ignore the success of. For example, we have the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. Both of these tablets have sold very well. And the new line of Kindle Fires appear to become pretty popular. However, for this discussion, you really can’t count the Kindle Fire. Why? Because Amazon has stripped nearly everything Google out of the tablet and that results in mostly a Google loss. Amazon claims to have 22% of the market. If you go with these numbers (Google hasn’t argued about them), that leaves a pathetic 10% of the market left for the countless Android tablets that have been released over the years. Even if you say these numbers are off and DOUBLE Google’s share, that’s only 20%. That is NOT a win.

But maybe Google can do better! Right? To be frank, I don’t think so. Google has been at this for years now and this is as far as they’ve gotten with the iPad being the only real competitor (sorry HP and Blackberry). While Apple is a formidable opponent, Google has really had it easy so far because the market is about to change in a very big way. Microsoft is about to jump into the tablet industry and you better bet they’ll make a splash!

Windows 8 Tablets are about to flood the market. Whether you think Windows tablets are good or not, they WILL cut into Android’s marketshare. Right now, Windows essentially has 0% of the market so they have nowhere to go but up.

With the overall lackluster tablet performance that Android has consistently had for years, MANY people will be willing to go with a Windows tablet instead of an Android tablet. A lot of the iPad users will too.

However, the Win8 tablets that will be hitting the market in the next month aren’t the largest concern that Google will have. Why? Because the majority of people see both Android tablets and this first batch of “Windows RT Tablets” as gadgety toys. They simply are not powerful tools, or at least aren’t used that way. However, the second round of Windows 8 Tablets will be what really hurts the Android tablet ecosystem. The reason for this is because people will start overwhelmingly buying those instead of laptops because they really can replace laptops, running normal Windows apps and having a full keyboard dock, yet they’ll also replace the desire to get an Android tablet because, well, it does gadgety toy and media stuff to!

One of the not-quite-success stories that we Android fans love the idea of is the Transformer line of tablets. But you know what? Asus is going to do the same thing in a very big way using Windows 8 with 11″, 13″, and 14″ screen options ranging from Atom to i7 processors, having 4GB RAM, SSD and traditional hard drive options, all in a Transformer line for Windows (link). So for all you Windows people out there, would you really prefer a Transformer with Android or a Transformer with full-blown Windows on it? For you Linux people, you better damn well bet that you’ll be able to get Linux on these machines since they are, after all, commodity hardware. So wouldn’t you rather have full blown Ubuntu (or whatever distro) on there instead of Android? Or at least dual-boot it? I really don’t see Linux in any pleasant way on our current Transformers or any other tablets because, frankly, ARM doesn’t play very well with an OS like that.

I’m sorry to spill this unpleasant prediction here but I’m really, very, thoroughly disappointed with Google’s failure to succeed in this market. They even said nearly a year ago that they were going to double-down in order to win this market. Sure, the Nexus 7 was a great device. You can even call it a successful device. But a single successful device does not this market win. And Google’s time has ran out now. They have officially lost this Tablet market until they can re-invent what they do in this market. Sure, it can still happen. But no evolutionary advancement of Android will get them there. They need something revolutionary. And Chromium is not it either. Sorry, Google. I wish you could have won.

  • kwills88

    We all have to remember that the iPad had a full 1year jump which forced Google to release Honeycomb which became a fail, and by that time the only tablet out to even compete with the iPad was the Xoom, so technically speaking the iPad almost had a good 2years head start…with ICS Google finally fixed their tablet issue and all that’s left is some catching up with some JB based Tablets…so i wouldnt call it a lost for now…Though i will say we need some across the board tablet apps, some phone apps look pretty weird on a tablet.

  • diordna

    You never know, a lot of analysts bet against Android in the beginning and they pulled it off. Google just has to create a proper tablet experience for tablets, right now they are still using the mobile experience on a larger screen. However a new catagory has been created which is the phablet. I think Android devices can create a new market for people who don’t want tablets but larger more powerful phones. Samsung has shown success in this area, perhaps others will too…

  • pjamies

    Well, I liked the article, it shows you what a company (Apple) can do when you produce your own software and hardware, and then advertise the shit out of it!
    Google on the other hand, is more like MS in that they produce s/w for a variety of hardware manufacturers, leaving their fate in the hands of others. Big Mistake!
    I’m sure that Google has some sort of ground rules for licensing their OS, but you would be hard pressed to actually see what they would be, as the manufactures and carriers don’t seem to care what they do as long as they sell phones, and this is why Android has such a bad rap in the phone industry.
    I have both an Android phone and a tablet which I actually like. Yes, the tablet is not an iPad, but I like that fact that I can have widgets on my screen that actually do useful things, and not just a lot of icons. Unfortunately I see Android as many people see Linux, it can do many things, but it has no real industry backing and tends to be for users that like to tinker with technology.
    Windows8 when it gets here will give both Android and iOS a run for its money. It will need to get up to speed on apps, but give it a yr or so and the business side of the new tablets will take off like a rocket.
    Yes, Apple has lots of business apps that have just come out over the last year or so, but large industry has years of MS OS applications that are just dying to jump over to tablet based hardware, and you will see that happen faster than you might think.
    I use MS at work, Android on my phone and Apple (MacBook Pro) at home. They all suit a specific purpose, and that is what is best about them.
    Who will be the big kahuna in 5yrs?? We will just have to wait and see …..

  • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

    Looking at your numbers, do you really think that Win8 tablets will barely affect Android marketshare but hugely affect iPad marketshare? You’re predicting Android marketshare going from 38% to 35% while iPad goes from 62% to 50%.

    I think it will be AT LEAST 50/50 but more like 65/35, hurting Android more than Apple.

    • kazahani

      I don’t think this will be the case because Microsoft is pricing their tablets in the upper tier, with the iPad. You have to think, a lot of Android’s marketshare is comming from cheaper tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, and Microsoft isn’t aiming to compete in that arena with the Surface.

      • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

        That’s true but you’re forgetting the entire “laptop replacement” effect. Most people who have Android tablets also have Windows laptops (pure speculation but I stand by it). Do you think they all would have bought that Android tablet if their laptop converted into a tablet?

  • TruFactz

    Very good article. I think what needs to be done is what pjamies said, marketing with their own product. The nexus line is great, just expand a little more on that single line and they’re in it! They already have everybody excited with the phone market, with the LG highly in question to be the next nexus phone, now let’s see something ground breaking with the tablet era, or do what Samsung has done, merge the two together, a phone and tablet?? I’ve seen people not give a crap about the pen factor! Just cause it was both merged together. Possibly make a Nexus Phablet. And expand in that market

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  • steve

    I just saw an article that stated the exact opposite, that google will overtake apple in the tablet market in the next few years. Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one.

  • NamelessTed

    I have read articles that made similar arguments to yours in the cell phone world. That Android couldn’t compete because Apple was so far ahead of the game and the few Android devices that were available (HTC G1 and the Droid) just didn’t compare to the iPhone. Now Android outnumbers iPhone devices by a ridiculous margin.

    I think it will only be a matter of time until the numbers turn around. There are going to be so many Android powered tablets on the market the market share for the iPad is going to decrease drastically.

    I do understand that Windows tablets are coming out, but I don’t think they will effect Android tablet sales. The Windows tablets are definitely going to be priced much higher. I am sure there will be some more budget oriented tablets, but they will be severely limited compared to the real full features windows tablets. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Transformer Windows tabs in the $1k+ price range. Maybe $800 at the lower end. But, that is still a long way off from the $400 TF300T or the $250 range we are seeing with 7″ tablets.

    It is just one of those things that is just a matter of time. Android is getting better, and hardware is getting WAY cheaper. Having the largest market share is all about delivering an acceptable product at a price point that the mass market can afford. No doubt in my mind that an 11″ tablet with Windows 8 and a detachable keyboard is going to be faster and better than my TF300T, but I’m not going to be buying something like that until it is about $400.

    • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

      Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, has hinted that the “sweet spot” that the Surface is going to target is the tablet market between ~$300-800. Far from an official price quote, but that’s the best we have right now.

      You’re right that there will be some tablets that cost more than $1k but who cares? If you build a tablet with an i7 in it with 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD storage, of course it’s going to cost a lot! All this means is that you will have options.

  • CTown

    At this point Amazon still depends on Google’s work. The new Kindle Fire tablets use Android. The apps made for the Kindle Fire is made from all of the tools Google has made in house. This means the Kindle Fire is still comptaible with most of the work Google has done.

    Sure, Google doesn’t get to learn more about a user when he or she buys a ebook on their Kindle Fire but who supports the majority of the “ad-supported apps” in the Amazon AppStore? Not only that, Amazon made Android succesfull in a place where people laughed at Android’s akwardness before-hand; the cheap tablet market. Those Colby tablets are so terrible!

    • http://www.jaxidian.org/update/ jaxidian

      So you’re claiming that Amazon releasing a version of Android that brings practically no revenue to Google is Google “winning”? Make no mistake that if Android proves to cost Google money instead of making it money, it will discontinue it. Whether we want to think so or not, Google is in the business to make profit. Perhaps they have some clever ways to accomplish this (i.e. give away free products in order to get more users using their services and seeing their ads) but they are in it for the money. The. End.

      • SGB101

        Way to state the obvious!

      • CTown

        People will use Google’s services on the Amazon Kindle Fire, just not the Play store. That is because Google’s main platform is the World Wide Web and Android is just here to get people connected because that is what Android is supposed to be: a pocket-sized portal to Google’s services. Like I already said, who supports the ad-supported apps in the Amazon appstore: Google!

        It’s not like Amazon can create their own OS, it would be a waste of their resources. Amazon cannot even get most of the Android app developers to submit their already made apps to the Amazon Appstore; they can’t even get developers to support their Appstore submissions as quickly as their Play store submissions.

        Amazon made a stale and laughable segment of the Android market viable as long as one as the OEM is connected to a giant media store. So, only Amazon, Google, and Apple have the ability to make this type of tablet. Google has already used this technique to make the best Android tablet “period” (as said on the Verge review of the Nexus 7). It’s not going to be long before every OEM gets a clue and tries to compete with the Fire and Nexus 7 (Samsung has already done with it with the GTab 2 7.0 and Apple is making the iPad mini).