Android tablets. Too little too late?

The photographs of  Chinese iPad clones running Android are filtering their way west and indeed, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to port the operating system onto anything from a flat screen television to a cheap large screen smartphone.  Android seems destined to become the mass market OS for mobile internet devices, and as hardware manufacturers figure out how to junk it up with their own skins, you can be sure to see a plethora of 10″ screens sometime soon. After a month in the Android world on my HTC EVO smartphone, and several months on the genuine iPad, I have to wonder what the mass market appeal of an Android tablet will be once they start shipping in volume later this year.

The significant application for the tablet — the so-called “content consumption” device (consumption is so tubercular in my mind) — is e-readers in my opinion. Sure, you can watch a nice movie or video courtesy of iTunes on the iPad, and doubtlessly Amazon, Netflix, and Doubletwist will be pushing moving picture content onto Android tablets with ease. But in my experience the big application is reading, be it the Kindle app on the iPad or the new magazine formats such as Flipboard and the traditional magazine publishers. So far the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have the lead in iPad formats, and I tend to make a point of refreshing them before hopping onto a plane. Flipboard is a nice enough user experience, integrating links from my Facebook and Twitter network, and it is a good platform for prolific publishers like AllThingsD and others with a need to push their content.

The point of this post is to wonder outloud how publishers will port from the iPad to Android tablets and if the experience will be as compelling as the early iterations on the Apple platform. If I were leading the platform decision at a Conde Nast or Time Inc. I would be very concerned about the production challenges of supporting the two platforms. While Wired may be declaring the Web to be dead, I have to disagree, seeing Android as an extension of the desktop browser/HTML model we’ve lived with for nearly two decades. iPad as a closed example of “splinternet” — yes, I concede that Apple model is a walled garden for developers and consumers, but a short lived one as Android gathers momentum and steam this summer and into the holiday season.

Prediction: next year the dominant launch-first platform will be Android.

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