I’ve seen the future, and it’s Android over iPad

The tablet is a great invention, but it will ultimately be rendered generic

As a rule I don’t make technology predictions, for a couple of reasons:

First, my job is to talk about what’s going on in the world right now, not to foretell the future. It’s weird how often tech journalists are looked to for their soothsaying powers (it’s also weird how often they’ll play along). We don’t ask, say, business reporters for their stock picks, but somehow anyone who reviews a gadget is deemed capable of prophesying the fate of massive companies and their products.

Second, guessing at the future of technology is a mug’s game. You will almost certainly be wrong, and therefore you are almost certainly making an ass out of future you. I like future me. I like his hovercraft pants and his metallic beard, and I refuse to embarrass him from this meager past.

That said, I will now break my rule and make a technology prediction. Even worse, I will make a tech prediction that was made by someone else, two days ago.

There will eventually be more Android tablets in use than iPads.

This of course was stated as fact, not prophecy, by a research firm called Informa. Informa should change their name to Obviousa, because theirs is the safest prediction I’ve heard in a while.

The phenomenal growth of Android smartphones illustrates the new normal when it comes to mobile devices: there’s Apple and there’s everything else, and everything else will run Android. Hardware companies have finally got the message that they are hardware companies—consumers don’t want their crappy, proprietary, incompatible software. Android is free, open and good, and as more and more of the unApple world adopts it, it will soon boast more apps than Apple.

But I bet you’d still take an iPad. Fair enough, but consider this: iPads remain expensive toys for grownups in countries like Canada. Teens and kids here would sooner spend that cash on an Xbox, and folks from poorer nations just want stuff that works. Any Android slab—even a lousy one—works. As long as it’s a glowing touchable rectangle running Android, you’ve got the basic functionality of an iPad. Reviewers like to pick at the details—maybe it’s a bit heavier, not as bright, less responsive, whatever.  To 91% of the world’s population it’s 91% of the way there, and if it sells for 19% of the price, then that will be the determining factor.

In a sense, Apple has screwed itself by making the iPad so elegant and simple. How can they continue to differentiate it? Change the colour, make it thinner, slap a camera on each side—and then what? Additions will only subtract.

The tablet is a great invention, but it will ultimately be rendered generic. The race is now on price, and Android will win it.

So it is written, so it shall be.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown.




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I’ve seen the future, and it’s Android over iPad

  1. You’re completely right, but don’t worry, Apple will release their armies of lawyers and will continue to copy innovations from other companies.

  2. I suspect not only will Android dominate the low-to-medium end of the smartphone/tablet market, but RIM will be out of the industry within five years. 

    (I don’t understand the vocal Blackberry holdouts, at this point. It’s such a primitive, clunky, user-unfriendly UI, it may as well be a rotary phone.)

    • I agree, but am sad – it is a Canadian company.

    • I think they can still survive, but they’ll need to innovate. To me Rim is a bit like Nintendo in the Console wars. It is a smaller company, more heavily focused on the particular product line being contested. That it is a player at all is as a result of being an early innovator. Their competitors may lose out in one generation of any given product line, but have the resources to at least ensure they rise like a phoenix in the next generation. 

      The only way for a Rim to survive is to figure out something new and paradigm-changing – leapfrogging over this generation of products (like Nintendo did with the Wii). The problem with that approach is that over time, Rim’s innovations can be adapted by their competitors. And if it is a simple matter of delivering the most powerful device for the lowest price, Rim is going to fail. Rather they need to get creative, and find new markets (instead of relying on their shrinking share of business users). 

  3. Both of them are already obsolete.

    • What made them obsolete?

      ‘Cause if both Apple and Android tablets are obsolete I want one of whatever bested them.

      • You think either of them are the last word in personal computing?

        • @OriginalEmily1:disqus  there never is a ‘last word’ in personal computing. But before the tablets are obsolete, there replacement has to be here. It isn’t yet, so they are very much not obsolete.

          • Yeah, it’s here

          • And it’s called???

          • @modster99:disqus 

            Well see, there’s your problem.  You don’t know anything of the sort. You just make things up.

          • @Lord_Kitcheners_Own:disqus 

            Doesn’t have one yet

          • ????

            Emily, I know you love to be contrary, and that you stubbornly defend mistakes that you make, but this one is simple. If, as you claim, the tablet is already out the door, you can easily tell us what has replaced it.

            @Lord_Kitcheners_Own:disqus  and I would love to know.

          • I, for one, think we should humour Emily’s belief that she has a super-secret alpha-testing prototype whatever that’s better than anything we ignorant peasants could imagine. It’s sadder that way.

          • @TheAVR:disqus 

            Oh go mumble in your scotch and stop boring people. LOL

  4. I couldn’t agree more! In general, people who buy Apple products are those who don’t give two hoots about getting value for their dollar.

    • We’ll see if the new Samsung 10.1 starts to eat away at this, but today, people who choose an iPad over another tablet are the one’s getting better value for their dollar.  People buying other tablets are either getting a worse tablet for the same price that Apple charges, or a cheaper tablet that’s a piece of crap.

    • “people who buy Apple products are those who don’t give two hoots about getting value for their dollar”-Rick Omen

      Rick, you have it exactly backwards. People who buy Apple products do so because they know that Apple products provide exceptional value and they are,therefore, happy to pay more in order to get much more value in exchange.

      This is not always true, but as a rule, I’ve found that people who buy Apple products value their time more than they value their money. It’s a a rational tradeoff either way. It’s OK, not to buy Apple products. But it’s also OK to buy them. It’s a preference not an IQ  or morality litmus test.

    • For the most part that is true, and Apple likes to sell to folks who want a no-thought product, and don’t care about the price. When it comes to tablets, however, the competition is a tad behind. They will, like the phone, eventually win. The iphone is still popular mostly due to marketing, and the fact that people are ‘stuck’ with them, if they start to buy apps.

      @FalKirk:disqus  is right when it comes to tablets, but wrong about the rest. Apple might be good products to use, but they are expensive, and therefore provide a worse value.

      • Apple likes to sell to folks who want a no-thought product, and don’t care about the price

        I’m not a fan-boy by any means, but even I’d say it’s more accurate to say “Apple likes to sell to folks who want a product that actually works, and don’t care if they have to pay a bit more for a product that ‘just works’ as opposed to getting a cheaper alternative that’s often a piece of useless crap.”  People turn to Apple because they’d rather have a product that can do 100 things all the time than a product that can do 200 things when it’s not broken.

        I love my Android products, and I’m always telling people how much more they can do than Apple’s products.  When they’re not crapping out on me.  It’s all well and good to tell my “Apple friends” that my Android is technically capable of doing X, Y or Z that their iPhone can’t do, but I usually have to ask them to wait while I reboot in order to show them it actually working, and by the time I show them that cool feature actually doing what it does, they’ve lost interest or walked away because they got tired of waiting.

        Apple products do cost more, but that guy at Starbucks muttering about what a piece of crap his laptop is, and how much stress it causes him isn’t smashing his fists against a Macbook Pro keyboard.

        • That is true – Apple does make good products, but not all other products are bad, or only work some of the time. I had an android phone that I loved, and didn’t have a single problem with it, except that it wasn’t waterproof. I have yet to buck out for a new one, as they cost a fortune.

          Same with computers. Some are bad (dell) and some are good (toshiba), and if people are getting the cheapest thing they can, it will crap out. If people know what they are doing, they can build a much better computer for cheaper. The deal is, the Apple folks don’t know, and they pay to have someone else know for them. Like I said, they get a no-thought product. (And by that I mean a product that works, and that they don’t have to think about.)

          Bottom line, for people who know about technology, Apple is overpriced. For people who don’t, they may pay more, but they will have a product that works.

          • Hilarious. Toshiba laptops (consumer grade) are/were garbage. Everyone I saw at school carrying around a Toshiba (I was one) was asked eventually whether they had hardware issues with it. Nearly every one did. I was lucky with only a dead battery, heatsink fan failure, and a faulty hard drive bearing. A friend had to replace the motherboard and his speakers started rusting (WTF?). 

            I bought a dell laptop about four years ago and it has worked flawlessly. I’m sure it varies model to model. I’ve seen some bad Dells, too.

          • Everyone has their own experiences. I have went through two Toshiba’s, and had 0 problems with both. Except for the fact that as they age, they are slower, they still perform flawlessly. I am sure that every brand that is out there has some ‘bad apples’.

            As far as Dell, I would throw my wife’s into the river (my mistake – I didn’t research) except that I would have to buy another computer. We will limp along until she needs a new one. I am happy that your Dell has been good, but most of the reviews I hear about Dell are not very good.

            Again, you are right, it is funny at how our individual experiences can color how we see the world. :)

        • I’ve had Macs lock up on me on a number of occasions. Maybe I’m just unlucky, but I don’t find the user experience intuitive or soothing.

  5. Android tablets have to do two things to beat the iPad: work well and be cheaper. To date they haven’t managed either. Android tablets have all the signs of rushed to market prototypes. They have missing advertised features, no software and poor experiences. To make matters worse they’re consistently priced at or above iPad prices.

    Android is doing extremely well in the phone market because they’re taking over the price points Apple doesn’t care about and running on constantly improving hardware. I’m wondering if the tablet market will shake down more like the mp3 player market did, with Apple completely and utterly dominating. I doubt it but it’s not as cut and dried as Jesse thinks it is.

    I’m thinking Amazon may be able to put together a tablet that is is good enough and cheap enough to start eating into Apple’s share. So far that’s the only one out there I’ve heard about that sounds promising.

  6. I’m not sure if Apple is all that threatened if someone’s selling tablets at 19% the cost of an iPad.  That likely means that those people aren’t making much money from that tablet.

    Apple’s rarely ever played in the low-end consumer market, as too much competition = not enough profit.  Consider that the cheapest laptop you can buy from Apple will run you about $1,000.

    With a healthy profit with each device sale, this allows Apple to stay five steps ahead of everyone else, not only in features, but also on the manufacturing end of things (building products that take months for other device manufacturers to emulate). 

    Anyways, food for thought! 

    • Apple seems to want to sue any competition, which is hilarious considering for how long they were the small parasite of the computer market. So they do feel threatened for sure.

    • I’m not sure if Apple is all that threatened if someone’s selling tablets at 19% the cost of an iPad.

      I sure wouldn’t be.  At 19%, that makes a baseline competitor a $100 tablet.  Has anyone here ever used a $100 tablet?  In 2011, comparing a $100 tablet to an iPad is like comparing a Motorloa Razr to an iPhone 4.

  7. Of course this will be so. Apple has a core fanhood that will stick by Apple whatever comes. The rest of the people will buy Whatever.

    And as soon as Whatever gets its act together, the iPad will be the *proud* possession of Apple’s core fanhood while Whatever is what everyone else will have.

    BTW: my Sony notebook has already outlived my MBP and shows no sign of quitting.

  8. “In a sense, Apple has screwed itself by making the iPad so elegant and simple. How can they continue to differentiate it?”

    Apple has always focused on small, loyal band of followers. Very clique-ish that thrives on snobbery. No one company is going to dominate any market, Apple has a nice solid base of people who will buy just about whatever company produces. 

    In economics, Veblen goods are a group of commodities for which people’s preference for buying them increases as a direct function of their price, as greater price confers greater status, instead of decreasing according to the law of demand.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veblen_good

    • I think you mean cult-like. Worshiping at the altar of Steve.

  9. The bottom line is that Apple is very good at marketing. They have a certain group of people (higher % in Canada than in the US), that they have convinced that Apple is the best at everything they do. They are good, and at certain times they might have the best, but not the majority of the time. The problem is, they ‘hook’ people with the apps. Once you start to buy their stuff, you have to stay with them because nothing is compatible.

    Android is already winning the phone war, and will win the tablet war. The Apple loyalists will stay just that. I predict that, in the future, they will decrease as a % of the population. As the technology improves, there will be less and less room/need for a product provider that uses proprietary software, at a premium price. I would expect that their stock price will peak within the next 5-8 years, and then start a gradual trend downwards. (but like James, I cringe at giving this prediction).

    • My only quibble with this is that I think you’ve got the timeline too long. I’m betting within the next 2 years or so.  Tech’s moving fast.

      Of course, if Apple pops another disruptor out, maybe something like taking the no-glasses 3D tech that the Nintendo 3DS has, that might float them another year or two.

  10. Today, android system has been ruling the electronic world. The success of android Smartphone just proved this by its sought-after user experience which has affected the growth of iPhone. And how about tablet PC? Does it take any challenge to compete with iPad? Here we would like to do a comparison for these 2 electronic giant.

  11. Let’s look at the Android tablets so far:

    Samsung Galaxy: failure
    Motorola Xoom: failure
    All other Android tablets: failure

    They are just as costly and offer less functionality and far fewer apps (10% of Apple’s offerings).

    Android only lasts as long as Google is happy throwing away money on it. What happens when Google decides to cut their losses and stops developing Android?

    ==”In a sense, Apple has screwed itself by making the iPad so elegant and simple.”==

    Only someone who has no understanding of design or Apple could type such a foolish comment.
    “Elegant and simple” is why Apple has $75 billion in the bank and all the other losers require a free OS to power their hardware.

    • far fewer apps (10% of Apple’s offerings)

      This is always thrown out there but it’s not nearly as meaningful as it seems.  Maybe Android only has 10% as many apps as iOS, but no one in the real world loads more than 1% of iOS apps on to their device.  Comparing the total number of apps in a marketplace doesn’t really mean much, as everyone who brings this up is always ignoring the literally tens of thousands of apps that are useless pieces of crap.  I’d like to know what percentage of apps that consumers actually USE are found on both devices, because that’s nowhere near 10%, and likely closer to 80 or 90%.

      You’re right about all of the Android Tablets so far though, but the new Samsung 10.1 (thinner and lighter than the iPad2) could begin to change that trend a bit.  Not that it will compete for market share with the iPad, but I doubt it will be a “failure”.

      Catching up with Apple is likely an impossibility in some ways though, they’ve just got too much money.  I just saw on the news the other day that Apple has almost $76 billion in cash.  To put that in perspective, that’s about $2 billion more than the U.S. Treasury.  That’s right.  Apple has $2 billion more in cash than the United States Treasury.

      It’ll be tough to compete with that!

  12. Oddly enough, Macleans has an ad for their new iPhone & Blackberry apps, but nothing for the Android phone I’m using to post this comment.

  13. I think it is premature to say so! Apple still have many options to overpass Android OS. After the upsurge of Android passes, many digital lovers would find that Apple is still great!

  14.  Yes, I think Apple pay too much attention to itself, it should concern more…One day Android will be over it…

  15. Jesse, although you’re right that Android will become the most popular tablet (especially in the ‘rest of the world’) don’t discount the innovation and impact that will come from future iPads. Apple has never put all their eggs in one “hardware centric basket” (like new colours, thinner, camera on all sides, etc). Apple’s tablet innovations will come from a blend of hardware, software, and user experience delight… just like they’ve been doing for decades in their other product lines.

    Tablets are still babies learning to walk. We haven’t seen what an adult tablet is capable of (think fully integrated augmented reality software) but I’m certain that Apple, and Android, will both be leading the way – there’s room for multiple leaders in this market.

  16. “There will eventually be more Android tablets in use than iPads.”

    Mother of God.  That’s your bold prediction?

    In other crazy, contrarian predictions: I predict there will also continue to be more PCs than Macs. Just as there were many more generic MP3 players than iPods, and more feature phones than iPhones.  And if Android phones don’t already outpace iPhone sales, at some point they will.  And Apple doesn’t care.   No business should, although it seems to fascinate tech bloggers, because the metric of business success isn’t units shipped, it’s profits, and Apple made $7B in profits last *quarter*.

    Apple is in the business of selling premium products in an otherwise cutthroat, low-margin industry.  Your line, “The race is now on price, and Android will win it.” not only misses the point, but gets it completely backwards.   Android tablet manufactures will compete amongst themselves on price, driving costs and margins down by cutting corners, while Apple will continue to charge roughly the same amount for future generations of their products, and out-profiting all of the Android manufactures together.

    The reason why Apple *can* charge a premium for products and get away with it is that it seems to have learned a lesson no one else in the ecosystem cares to learn – people will pay extra for a well-designed product that works better.   It inhabits that sub-market by doing things which expressly reduce its market share – restricting native apps to the App store, imposing restrictions on developers, and, famously, by having a very limited product line.   Those all limit market share, but give more control over the UX, allowing them to charge premiums because things (mostly) “just work” (or at least work better than their competitors).

    Now, *why* no other big company has decided to also compete in this obviously very lucrative space is an excellent question, and one I can offer no answer to.

    There are definitely apple *users* who want Apple to dominate the market for the latest hot device, but Apple itself has never shown any real interest in this at all.   It creates a well-designed product that completely shakes up a product category (iPod, iPhone, iPad), extracts huge profits from this, and while the competitors scrable to copy the product idea to carve their own niche in this newly-created market, Apple is already working on the next thing.

    Me? I’ve got an iPad, and love it, but competition is good, and I look forward to see what’s next.

  17. I think, Bill Joy, Founder of Sun Microsystems said something very similar way back in 2002 ?, in some MIT article not sure.
     But the PC/Desktop is sadly DEAD ! everything will be done on a big handheld. and you’ll be able to plug virtually any peripheral device(s) that you need to it. …

    Unfortunately, playing with any graphically intensive application, and/or game on a “handheld” just cannot beat my beautiful big HD Monitor, and on any scale yet.
     But for blithering textual garbage like this ? – the handhelds are great
    :)

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