I'm about ready to throw in the towel on Android tablets out of sheer frustration. As a Linux user and Android fan, I've been patiently waiting for a decent iPad competitor to hit U.S. shores. The Galaxy Tab looked promising, until Verizon and Samsung stuck a $600 price tag on the tablet. Why aren't vendors taking this seriously?
Let's look at the facts. Even Google has said that the current Android OS is not well-suited for tablets, and that manufacturers should wait for 3.0. Android has an impressive marketplace, but still far behind Apple — particularly when it comes to games. Android is a decent substitute for iOS on smartphones, but it's still not as slick or full-featured (in many ways) as iOS.
Now Samsung and Verizon think they can sell a tablet that's $100 more expensive than the low-end iPad, with a smaller screen and fewer apps and games? Not to mention no iTunes, so less content as well. Yes, you can buy content for Android, but the options are not as well-advertised or commonplace as iTunes. Netflix for Android isn't even available yet.
The defense? That the Tab comes with 3G built in, and front and rear cameras. Meh. While I think Apple is really hosing its customers with the $130 bump in price for 3G, I don't think that chopping customers are going to see 3G as a compelling enough feature to make up for the 3" of screen space. Maybe some users are dying for the 7" form factor, but the sales so far don't indicate that people find the 10" screen unwieldy.
It's not just the Galaxy Tab, though. It was just the most promising of the bunch until they saddled it with a price that's $100 (or more) too high. If the Tab was $399, it'd be a killer deal. At $499, it'd be moderately competitive. At the current price, it's dead on arrival. The iPad launched in April of this year, and the few Android tablets that have launched are no competition. It took Dell months to finally announce U.S. availability of the Dell Streak, and then it decided to hobble that device with an ancient version of Android and limited distribution.
Apple, meanwhile, is making serious bank and inroads with the iPad. Laptop manufacturers have already said they're feeling the pain from the iPad, and predictions are that Apple will ship nearly 44 million iPads in 2011.
Someone in the Android camp needs to bite the bullet and follow through with a cheaper, better alternative that's widely distributed. You can easily go out and put hands on an iPad to see if it's right to buy — finding Android tablets to test drive before purchase is not an easy feat.
When I say that Android vendors are conceding the market to Apple, I mean it. Die-hard Android fans will pay the price for the Galaxy Tab or Dell Streak, or take chances on one of the cut-price offerings. But most consumers are likely to go with the iPad. It's well-known, has massive advertising behind it, and it's far more polished with a lot more applications that people want to use. Maybe when Android 3.0 comes out there'll be a competitive tablet, but by then Apple will be ready to announce the iPad 2.0 — and I suspect that the next release of the iPad will be just that much farther ahead of Android.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.