Will Android tablets be ambushed by Surface RT, other Windows 8 offerings?

While Android has been very successful in the smartphone market, it has–at least so far–overall not sold very well in the tablet one. There is talk in tech circles about how the new offerings from Microsoft (featuring Windows 8) could effectively bury Android as a tablet option.

While initially Android’s failure in the tablet market might seem to be a bit confusing, as the Android experience would seem to lend itself particularly well to tablets, it’s perhaps best described this way: in the beginnIng most tablet apps were just ported-over versions of smartphone ones, with the resultant problems of poor graphics quality (overall fuzziness) due to resolution differences. It’s the same thing as if you were to take a tiny 110-sized or Disc (remember them?) negative and enlarge it to an 8×10-sized print. While there were other issues, that was probably the primary one.

Apple’s iPad apps started out the same way…the difference lies in several areas. One, the iPad’s app developers had available an SDK (Software Developer’s Kit) that provided them with the precise dimensions and operating environment for the iPad’s iOS. Android developers–due to the sheer numbers of various versions–were not so lucky.

The second reason is that, while the sales of the iPad took off, most other OEMs sat back and hedged their bets on tablets. Looking back, there was much uncertainty in the marketplace over whether the iPad would succeed or fail–most thought it would be at best a modest success. After all, tablets by Toshiba and many others had been on the market for ten years, to at best a lukewarm reception. What could Apple do that would be any different? (We all now know the answer to that question.) So the iPad’s developers got a strong headstart. In fact, the first competitors to the iPad didn’t start to materialize until nine months after its announcement, in early September.

This article, from PCWorld.com, suggests Android tablets may have difficulty keeping up with similar Surface RT-based devices:

Nagging questions shadow the impending launch of Windows 8, threatening to scuttle Microsoft’s plans to reinvent itself for the age of mobility. Will desktop users graciously accept the redesigned Modern interface? Will the Windows Store have enough apps to entice would-be Surface RT buyers? Can Windows 8 breathe life into sagging PC sales?

Microsoft’s future success depends on its ability to make serious, quantifiable, no-nonsense headway in the mobile market, but it’s not the only company with a massive stake in the ultimate fate of Windows 8. The new operating system will also have a major impact on Google. Just look at the list of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet and hybrid partners—Samsung, Asus, Toshiba, and the rest. They all make Android tablets, too.

Apple’s position in the tablet market is so dominant that it need not fear encroachment by Windows 8 devices. But most of Google’s hardware partners—especially the ones that make the larger, so-called productivity devices—need to ask themselves a tough question: Will Windows 8 obliterate consumer interest in Android tablets?

Early opportunity squandered
At least one expert thinks that this question isn’t hard to answer. Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps sees a bleak future for Android tablets.

“No one’s buying Android tablets other than Amazon or Barnes & Noble [models] anyway,” she says. “If there’s a market for non-Apple tablets, it has been and will be Windows. It’s pretty clear that there just hasn’t been any demand for Android tablets other than the niche earlier-adopter market, while Windows has mainstream consumer interest.”

Despite being the only major tablet alternative for people who don’t want to bite into Apple, Android has clearly had little impact on the tablet market. IDC’s second-quarter tablet report shows that more than two-thirds of all tablet shipments originated in Cupertino, and even those numbers don’t tell the full story. IDC (which is owned by PCWorld’s parent company IDG) and other top research firms track tablet shipments to retailers, not tablet sales to customers. So when you take into account that some variable proportion of shipped Android tablets languish unsold on retailers’ shelves, Android’s situation may be even bleaker than IDC’s numbers suggest.

In the recent Apple vs. Samsung case, for example, court filings showed that Samsung had managed to sell only 712,000 Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets in the United States since the slate’s launch. Those are sad numbers, given that many observers considered the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to be the perfect iPad alternative for much of 2011.

Also troubling for Google’s operating system is the fact that the Kindle Fire—Android’s brightest tablet star and best tablet seller—is not the droid you’re looking for. It runs a proprietary, heavily skinned interface that renders it more of a content delivery system for Amazon than a proper Android tablet.

Ominously, the Kindle Fire accounts for the majority of Google tablet sales. IDC claims that Amazon is the world’s third-most-prolific tablet manufacturer, even though Amazon sells its slate only in the United States. And reports from ComScore, Pew Research, and Amazon itself indicate that the Kindle Fire outsells all other Android tablets combined.

In other words, Android owes most of its slim slice of market share on an Android tablet that doesn’t look or feel at all like a pure Android tablet. Google’s baby is sucking wind, folks.

Cue the Windows 8 tablets.

Of course, what’s not mentioned in this article could also happen, in this scenario:

Many have trusted Microsoft over the years for software they’ve come to rely on, and were holding out for the company to produce a tablet and an accompanying OS based on that trust.

Windows 8 is a failure. For whatever reason, Surface RT as well as the OS are neither popular nor accepted.

Now those users are forced to accept either an iOS or Android tablet…Android, being a bit closer to Windows function and also not made by the dreaded competitor Apple, becomes their tablet and OS of choice.

It’s just a thought.

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