Google are about to change the way tablets that aren’t an iPad are going to be used and they are doing it so silently that to the consumer they won’t even notice the difference.
What does that cryptic sentence mean? It is all about the difference between using a tablet on Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s about the difference between usability and a feeling of hopelessness; and most of all it is about how Google are going to make the consumer sit up and see something fresh this year, first with ICS and then with its successor named Jellybean.
Apple hit it head-on with the iPad by creating a user experience so smooth and instant that all it needed was the content to match how easy it was to use. Microsoft had been trying for years to crack the tablet market, but its solution was putting Windows on a tablet that was painful to use despite its huge application pool. Apple put the experience first and then waited for developers to come to the party and they didn’t disappoint.
Google tried to be different and created a stuttering, yet charming first attempt at a tablet OS. It was Android but it wasn’t how we had become used to it and so for a year Android Honeycomb tablets were the same price as an iPad and half the value, if that.
Google knew that they had to change the experience so they worked hard and gave us Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and the wait was worthwhile as they fixed almost every issue with previous Android tablet software.
There are only two devices in store that carry ICS on them that are available here in the UK, those are the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime but both are a match for the iPhone and iPad respectively in terms of hardware, speed and now software. Google learnt its lesson and over the coming months will be aiming squarely at the territory where the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet reside in the US.
CES 2012 was the chance to show off the 7-inch ASUS MeMo 370T tablet with ICS and a quad-core Tegra 3 processor for $250. That tablet is the first step along a road that will threaten Apple to its core.
The iPad sits at twice that price currently in the US and if you show a consumer a device half the price with twice the hardware and performance that is on a par then the value proposition is too much to turn down. At the mid-range ICS tablets will chip away at iPad sales and at the high range alongside the iPad tablets like the Transformer Prime has had an upgrade to a full HD 1080p display.
Then there are rumors of a Samsung tablet with a retina display busting 2560×1600 pixel resolution due in February that could well take the wind out of the Apple machine.
We should not be unrealistic as whatever Apple announces as the iPad 3 around March time will sell-out but it will really only be about the brand this year. Android tablets will match the iPad 3 on hardware and software and in smaller form factors will destroy Apple for price and value, and once more tablet specific applications hit ICS it will become less obvious why anyone should buy an iPad.
I fully expect the market share of the iPad to decrease after initial high sales of the iPad 3 as the consumer finds out how much of a value proposition Android ICS tablets bring to the market over the iPad 3.
Google need to get ICS out into the market at all price points and then they will take market share from Apple and that is the key first step required and then it is on to the next iteration of Android software. What can Google do to take it to the next level and really blow away the consumers?
Google are looking to Jellybean, the next version of Android to bring features that will make their tablets stand out for the iPad and offer unique selling points to draw the consumer in. The question remains what could those features be that Google plan on using in Jellybean? I think that there are several key features that Jellybean needs to really stand out in late 2012.
Google make the best desktop browser you can get on the PC and Mac in Chrome and if Jellybean can bring a full version of Chrome to tablets in 2012 then that would go very far towards making Android tablets the best web experience available. We shouldn’t forget that Windows 8 tablets will bring a full Chrome version and Google can’t afford to be left behind. The current web browsing experience on ICS is good but it still isn’t quite on par with the iPad for speed and smoothness so Google needs to bring it up another notch.
Google are said to be working on an answer to Siri that is codenamed Majel, after the late wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry who voiced the computer in every TV show and movie up to 2010. Android boss Andy Rubin talked about how he believed that the speech recognition on Android should be a tool and not a gimmick as he feels Siri is; a next-gen Android tablet that can respond to requests like the computer in Star Trek would be a real consumer hit.
This isn’t a feature for everyone but Android already allows the user do more than iOS ever has and being able to natively move files around Android Jellybean would be a huge success. Imagine being able to manually select your editorial written using Majel on Google Docs and do whatever you want with it? that is exactly what could stand out from the crowd.
Android already has more built in functionality than the iPad but the ability to edit and create documents is sorely missing. The current Google Docs application doesn’t do the job well enough and third party office applications are severely lacking. Just imagine being able to tell your Android tablet to write a letter using speech recognition with a high quality word application. Just imagine the number of children talking their home work into existence on their android tablets, now that is something that could make Apple nervous.
Ice Cream Sandwich brings huge improvements to the ability of both phones and tablets to take and edit photos and videos, but it could still be better. There is no HDR option built into ICS yet and what about further improvements such as face detection and built-in 3D photos like current Sony Ericsson phones such as the Arc S include? A more integrated video chat feature that can be accessed through the dialler is a must as well, although currently the use of Google Plus hangouts on ICS is an outstanding feature that iOS lacks.
Greater Market Integration
The iPad and iPhone hugely benefit from the Apple eco-system through iTunes, so Google is trying to bring more options to the Android market with music, videos and books but it just doesn’t quite work. Google Music is a great application but it doesn’t integrate with the other apps on ICS. I want to be able to find a film I want to watch and then be able to click through to find music and books and applications related to it.
Google should take the connected apps idea to the next level. I want to watch a film so I can type into the Google search bar the actor I like, such as Will Smith and what if Google then doesn’t just give me the option of searching the Internet for him but also shows me options to click through to his music and films. Each click through the contextual menu then allows me to delve deeper into the context by letting me chose if I want to watch action or maybe even a comedy.
I am then able to download the film, song, book or application without even having to move out of the Google search screen; now that would be something.
What if I could do that by voice? Watch out Apple. I call this master intelligence but only because I believe it is something that Google can master and learn from and become more intelligent through usage. The iTunes experience is fantastic but even Apple fails at this kind of contextual search.
Android has 700,000 new devices activated everyday and to date has had 250 million devices activated all over the world. Those figures are so mind-boggling that it impossible to imagine the largest single user base for any device currently available. The population of the US in 2010 was 312 million, which means at the current rate of Android activations that by the end of March the equivalent of the entire population of the US will be on Android devices.
This shows how much Android is lacking an application that has the functionality of BlackBerry Messenger or iChat. Google Talk is the only application that provides similar functionality and most Android users have never even looked at it. Google should take advantage of the huge user base and build in an IM style client that everyone signs up to when they first activate their tablets and handsets and that works perfectly with the enhanced video chat features. The result of such a move would make it seem like the entire world is on this new Google IM service and make it a must have that even Apple can’t compete with for global coverage.
Android Phone Pairing
The HP TouchPad had a unique feature in the ability to answer phone calls and reply to text messages from a linked HP Pre 3 phone. If Google could allow the same features to be built into a Jellybean tablet then it would truly create a tablet that always kept you in touch. I want to be able to reply to text messages from my phone on my tablet and I would like to have the option of answering a call on my tablet if I have my headset on or within reach. This would be a feature that would make enterprise customers very happy as productivity would go through the roof and they would not even have to take their Android phone out of their pocket and would still be able to stay in touch.
I believe that the ideas above stand out as killer features to take Jellybean to another level but it may well be that Apple comes up with similar ideas with the next iPad and iOS 6.
If such strong features are put on a tablet that is cheaper than an iPad then how could anyone really say they want an iPad more? It is always the case that those that chase the innovators have to not only catch up but then out think them and that is particularly hard as the resources to catch up alone would kill most competitors. Google is lucky it is such a large and innovative company with extensive manufacturer backing that it can make a stand against Apple.
The key to Android success is obvious and it starts with Ice Cream Sandwich and the enhanced user experience it brings; then it needs the lower price range to be hit with high value tablets with ICS. The high end then requires the iPad 3 specification threatening tablets so consumers can see that the iPad 3 is not after all that special.
The path to truly fighting into the iPad market share comes with Jellybean and it’s enhanced features that make it stand out as a unique platform that the consumer wants and needs. Will 2012 bring Apple to its knees in the tablet market or will it become a level-playing field for both Apple and Google? I believe that come the end of 2012 we will look back and be amazed that Apple could give up such a massive lead in the tablet market so quickly.
Update: Since I wrote this Google have brought Chrome to ICS devices, and shown how they continue to innovate to bring the best features to tablets and phones. Whilst Chrome is only in beta right now it clearly shows the promise and threat that a fully complete version would pose to any other browser on any other platform, including the PC.