Commentary

Are Android Tablets Still All Tech-ed Up With Nowhere To Go?

It would be nice if the rapidly evolving market in tablets would get its signals straight. Understanding how this multi-screen space is growing and where both media and marketers should place their bets is getting confusing. IDC issued some good headline bait last week when their latest report declared that the 14.6 million iPads shipped in Q2 represented a decline in Apple's share of the market that helped it essentially trade places with the former laggard Android. A year ago Apple held 60.3% of the market, and now Android has 62.6%. The iconic and category-defining iPad is now only 32.5% of the market.

But wait a sec. Despite the massive growth in shipped Android tablets (up 162% from last year), one ad network, Chitika, claims it saw the iPad's share of tablet-initiated Web traffic hit 84.3%. Granted that was one ad network, but ecommerce platform Monetate also reported earlier this year even more lopsided figures, with the iPad still accounting for 89.28% of tablet traffic to commercial Web sites in Q1 2013, with Android accounting for a paltry 8.2%. Even if you count the Kindle Fire as an Android device, the platform barely cracks 10.5% of activity.

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If you take these stats seriously, you have to wonder what all those people are doing with the millions of tablets they are supposed to have purchased.

Yet another firm weighs in on tablet disparity this week as Canalys says the flaw is in the Android tablet app ecosystem. By that company’s count, only 52 of the top-ranked iPad apps are present on Android. Thirty of the top free and paid apps on the iPad were not even available on Android. And 18 apps were found on the Google platform but in un-optimized versions that gave Android tablet users the smartphone experience.

There are problems with the Canalys analysis, not the least of which is that a number of the top iPad apps are Apple programs like Keynote, Pages and GarageBand. The analyst also did not compare the bestselling apps on Android’s tablet that are not in the Apple App store. Android tends toward more productivity apps at the top of its stores, but many of the major games, media and social network apps are here in tablet-optimized versions. Canalys contends that compared to the 375,000 apps optimized for tablets in the iPad store, the number of tablet-specific apps in Google Play number in the tens of thousands.

I will spring to Google’s defense here. On the hardware side, the Nexus 7 is a joy to use. Its weight and profile, let alone its display, have some of the qualities that make both iPad models a pleasure to use. And compared to this time last year, the app selection and much better Google PlayStore are much, much better. And as for WiFi performance, the Nexus actually beats the crap out of the iPad in my informal tests and everyday use.

There is no doubt that there is an app deficiency on Android tablets -- at least in terms of breadth. Analyses like Canalys or the Web activity metrics don’t look at other parts of the tablet ecosystem like books, magazines, video. Google does not crow about its app sales, developer payouts and scale in quite the way Apple likes to. And perhaps for good reason. Canalys contends that despite stronger overall app download numbers, the entire Android ecosystem still generates less than half the revenue of Apple’s.

There is a lesson to be learned from the rapidly evolving patterns on Android smartphones. While media consumption and app revenue metrics, ad responsiveness, etc. often showed that iOS was the platform on which people always seemed most responsive and engrossed by content and marketing, those metrics have shifted over time. And the basic model for Android was always about distribution, which meant that a much broader range of smartphone demos were represented here. There are segments of very heavy app and content users here, I imagine, although the averages may get lowered by large pockets of light data users.

I suspect the media usage gulf between Android and Apple tablets will begin to even out. I have to say I think the platform is getting a bad rap at this point, even if the experience is clearly inferior to the iPads. The key information apps that I use for my nightly tablet crawls, especially the media and aggregation apps, are mostly present on here now. The form factor and weight are superb for games and movies.

What it adds up to, I think, is a great opportunity for brands and media to give Android tablet owners something to do and somewhere to go.  

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