Android vs iPad? Why Android Tablets Can’t Beat the iPad

I just received an email from community member Andrew Wellings:

Hello Chris! When I’m doing stuff around the house, I like to keep my phone on me to listen to music or browse the Web (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and reading up on my news/tech blogs). As you may know from experience, this drains the battery alarmingly quickly, and the small screen is very limiting.

I have been looking at buying a tablet device for a few weeks, but I would rather trust your opinion, as opposed to some reviewer on a tech blog (which technically, I guess you are…). Anyway, the big dilemma is this: should I buy a used iPad 1st gen, or one of those many Android tablets?

I don’t need 3G, cameras or any bells and whistles. All I would need is Wi-Fi, a 7-10inch screen (not too fussy there, although preferably capacitative), to be able to watch videos, listen to music and maybe store some photos to show the relatives.

It would need to be available in the UK though, and preferably have a sub £250 price tag (~$400). Thanks very much for any help you can give.

Andrew, like most consumers (99 out of 100), are looking to get the most bang for their buck – right?

If you know anything about me (at all), you probably also know how I’m going to answer this question – but even if you didn’t know me, you’d be hard-pressed to find a true consumer advocate who would not recommend the iPad 1st-gen in this case. Can the 1G iPad do everything? No. Does that make it an inferior device? No.

You may be inclined to attack my position – so before you spout off your own brand of nonsense, why don’t you read a fandroid’s thoughts first. “Can the Android Tablet Ecosystem Still Beat iPad?” Yeah, I’m in complete agreement with him. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this post – I happen to agree with cogent Android supporters.

I also think that the most definitive article on this subject has already been crafted by someone with far more insight than you or me.

Now, since Apple has recently dropped the price of the iPad 1G to US$400 (while supplies last, assumedly), it’s become even more attractive to would-be tablet owners. Keep in mind, too, that despite its year-old life, Apple continues to push the latest iOS updates to it. Find me a Honeycomb Android tablet that sells for less than $400 (without contract) with a capacitive (multi-touch) screen today at less than 1.5lbs and I’ll seriously reconsider my suggestion.

You have to wonder: what is Motorola smoking? At least Samsung has the cojones to state the painfully obvious. Buying any device based on its possible future potential is just… ill-advised.

Android tablets can’t beat the iPad – Reason #1: Splintered experiences.

The industry has yet to see an Android tablet that comes close to matching the iPad’s overarching experience. Ah, there’s the key word: “experience.” That’s the magic revealed when hardware works in perfect harmony with software. This is the elusive factor that all Android devices seem to face after the new car smell wears off.

Specs be damned. Would you rather have a souped-up machine that did everything 50% of the time, or a stripped-down machine that did some things 100% of the time? You’re a fool to answer the former.

The OS can never be written to run optimized on all compatible hardware. That’s a difficult hill to climb (trying to be all things to all people). Couple with that shortcoming that certain device models are effectively locked out of software revisions by carriers… and you’ve got the making for an even more cluttered, confusing, and just plain god-awful consumer experience. This very disconnect will keep Android from besting iOS, alone.

Let he who hath been locked out of an Android OS update on capable hardware cast the first stone.

Android tablets can’t beat the iPad – Reason #2: Current pricing models.

Apple is the only company creating iOS-compatible hardware – versus dozens upon dozens of companies creating Android-capable hardware. In other words: Android devices are a de-facto commodity. And there’s one thing you can’t do with a commodity if you expect it to succeed: charge too much. But higher-than-iPad pricing is exactly what we’re seeing from these supposed “iPad killers.”

Why on god’s green earth, if you were trying to compete with a clear market leader, would you set your entry model’s MSRP at a higher cost than the leader’s entry model?

As a matter of fact, the reason would-be Apple denouncers have been so anti-Mac for years is because they see the Mac as “more expensive” than its PC cousins. Well, it seems to me that if you are a dyed-in-the-wool PC user who brandishes this outdated myth about Macs, you should never be caught dead carrying an Android tablet – since they’re absolutely more expensive than Apple’s iPad.

Motorola is dropping the price on the Xoom, but is that low enough to capture any amount of market share before the next Android-based iPad-killer is released in another month or so?

New Android devices should be more affordable, comparatively – and certainly priced less than the lowest-priced iPad. Who could argue with that?!

We might readily suggest an older Android device that weighs in at a much more affordable price, but with it comes a correspondingly lackluster experience. Have you ever tried using Android 1.x (resistive) after playing inside 2.3 (capacitive with multi-touch)? Let’s just assume that sacrificing usability is never an option for any consumer – otherwise, we’ll be forever wrestling with nerds who believe that GUIs are for wimps.

Besides, it’s difficult to compare today’s available options with yesterday’s in fairness. I personally can’t wait to buy a truly competitive Android tablet. It, however, doesn’t currently seem to exist.

Android tablets can’t beat the iPad – Reason #3: Too many choices.

Consumers absolutely need choice – but there’s a far greater chance of you making an incorrect choice on a menu with thousands of items.

I absolutely do see a world where there are more Android than iOS devices – that’s inevitable, much like we see more PCs with no true or clear differentiation between them. However, #1 in saturation does not imply a #1 product. Do I really need to bring up IE6 as an example to belabor my point?

There’s only one iPad, and it’s easy to spot the differences between 1G and 2G models. Even with future editions in the fold, Apple only offers a limited amount of units at any given time.

Ask yourself this: why is it that a new “best Android device” seems to be released every few weeks? Who could keep up with that?

Tangentially, Android is irresponsibly positioned as “good” for the consumer with an intentionally laissez faire app marketplace – but while Android’s software choices seem to be equal to those within Apple’s iTunes App Store, you’re doing nothing but swimming in an array of razor blades within Google’s Market. That may be acceptable for geeks, but not for most of the known galaxy.

Nah, you’ll be safe with Android. I’m not making this stuff up. Certain geeks should be ashamed for wholeheartedly endorsing an experience that has such a strong potential for compromising the innocent consumer. That’s not a choice – it’s the Sword of Damocles.

Android tablets can’t beat the iPad – Reason #4: Flash is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

But why even bring up Flash in this entire “iPad vs Android” argument? Because it’s too frequently called upon as a trump card without true qualification. Maybe if poorly-developed Flash apps had caused my browsers to crash with less frequency over the years, I’d be more sympathetic to Adobe’s cause. Flash? Platform non grata in the mobile space.

It’s also been argued that the consumer should be able to view Flash-rendered content on any particular platform. But Flash, in case you missed the memo, has overstayed its welcome – and is far from stable or secure (on any OS). Even its proprietors are Flash compatibility (which will likely drain your battery at break-neck speed and run medicore-at-best), who am I to argue? It’s your money – and you’re absolutely free to spend it in whatever way(s) you see fit. I’ve been living largely without it on my desktop for some time, thanks to the Click-to-Play functionality found in development builds of Google Chrome (my default Web browser, and one of the best available today).

Oh, snap. Did you see that? I wrote an article about how Google’s Android wasn’t a good choice for consumers if they were also considering an iPad – then I dovetailed my statements with a clear assertion that I prefer Google’s Chrome web browser above all others. This isn’t about what’s right for Google or Apple – it’s about what’s best for consumers on the whole.

iOS devices are still selling like hotcakes, despite their inability to natively support Flash content. If you’re really concerned about not being able to view useless Flash splash screens to restaurant Web sites, just look up the information on Google Places. As far as Flash video content on the iPad is concerned – there’s always Skyfire. “Problem” solved.

By all definitions, the iPad is a new kind of computer. I need to state this outright, if only because the most ardent iPad antagonists awkwardly continue (in gusto) to shoehorn the “tablet” class into a classic notebook / laptop paradigm (USB ports, et al). If any Android tablet expects to be seen as true competition to Apple’s entrant, it must first qualify by accepting new rules and eschewing perception.

Of course, the Android ecosystem could continue to ignore competition at is own peril. If I were Google, I’d be far more concerned about webOS than I would be iOS. But I’m (obviously) not Google. 😉 I have no horse in this race, other than wanting to see huge wins for consumers.