Outlook: Considerations for Developing Android Tablet Applications

Arguably, 2010 was the year of the iPad. It became the executive’s new computer and the parent’s new babysitter. For my business, it’s been the primary device of interest for developing new applications, with most of the apps we build for customers now being iPad applications.

My take coming into 2011 was that it had the potential to be the year of the tablet. CES showed that promise with a number of Android-powered devices set to hit stores, with the Motorola XOOM, LG G-Slate, and Toshiba Folio 100 representing the leading candidates. These tablets really only are possible because of Google’s unveiling of the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 aka Honeycomb. And last week, it was finally showcased to the public. Generally, I’m excited about the update. As a whole, however, I’m concerned about the success of Android tablets in the consumer market and what this means for developing android tablet applications:

1. Costs are too high.

The iPad isn’t cheap but with initial prices for devices like the Motorola XOOM coming in at $800+, comparatively the iPad looks like a steal.

2. Too many options.

With a minimum of 3-4 options to choose from, and many, many more flooding the market, consumers aren’t going to know the right Android tablet to purchase. That’s especially important because they really won’t understand what they are getting comparative to an iPad.

3. No clear winners.

A corollary to the second point. Even with a number of more compelling Android tablets set to launch in Q1 and early Q2, it’s going to take some time to get numbers on what kind of distribution they collectively reach. More importantly, we’ll not know if there is clear winner and a de facto Android alternative to the iPad till mid-2011 at the earliest.

4. Fragmentation following Android onto the tablet.

Displays
Motorola XOOM – 10.1”
LG G-Slate – 8.9”
Samsung Galaxy Tab – 7”

The display sizes alone for potential leading Android tablets reveal that developing across these devices is not a trivial task. Then consider the more significant resolution and hardware internals differences.

5. iPad 2

It’s very likely the iPad 2 will launch somewhere between March and April. It will largely be a revision with it being expected to be sleeker, including a front-facing camera, and a faster processor. Still, a revision on a top selling device, which is priced more competitively than alternatives, could be trouble for these fledgling Android tablets.

What It Means

The primary buyers of the initial versions of Android tablets are going to be early technology adopters. Thus, I do not recommend most organizations proceeding with building consumer-focused Android tablet applications for the first part of 2011. Some of the exceptions to this guidance include game studios and large publishers. But even for those groups, they need to proceed with caution and focus on the perceived device winners (my early pick, as with others, is the Motorola XOOM).

Where’s the Opportunity

If I were a manufacturer, I’d likely not engage in the crowded consumer tablet arena. Instead, I’d focus on developing Android devices that can be used in the enterprise market (i.e., behind firewalls) and in field operations. That’s also where the opportunity is for Android developers, although it’s difficult to break into these markets without having established relationships.

Similarly, organizations may want to develop direct partnerships with Android tablet providers. These types of relationships could provide better pricing and open up additional customizations to the hardware itself.

My Plan

Although I am concerned about rumors that the Motorola XOOM’s Wi-Fi will be disabled without purchasing a data plan, it’s the Android tablet I’m currently planning to purchase. That could change if the rumors hold true (and there’s no way to cancel the data plan). In any case, I will report back with my Android 3.0 experiences and with what we are working on for these tablets.