Apple did it again. In an announcement late last month they released yet another iPad, the fourth model in two and a half years (in addition to the iPad Mini). In the minds of many consumers, that gives Apple the top three tablets on the market, starting with the iPad 2. It might seem odd that in two years Android tablets manufacturers haven’t been able to come up with something to top the iPad 2, but it’s not at all unfair to say that the iPad 2 is indeed better than any Android tablets on the market.
At the same time, the differences between iOS and Android are stark enough that the issue largely comes down to personal preference. While Apple’s minions will tout the iPad above all, there are legitimate reasons to to choose an Android tablet, especially now, as Ice Cream Sandwich tablets begin to flood the market.
There is no doubt that the iPad is a high quality product, from the original through the newest. Yet consumers aren’t necessarily spending all that money on quality. Part of the $500 baseline for a new iPad goes towards the name-brand premium Apple charges for its products. There is no wonder why it routinely ranks among America’s, and the world’s, most profitable companies.
Android tablets, on the other hand, typically don’t come with that premium attached. At the beginning they did. Many of the most prominent Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus Transformer Prime, butted up with Apple’s $500 baseline price. But times have changed. You can get a T-Mobile Android tablet for as cheap as $100 — and it’s not all that much worse than the iPad. Even the previously overpriced Galaxy Tab 10.1 has come down to $150, putting it on a price plane that Apple will not compete with.
That is to say, there is simply more value for your dollar with an Android tablet, even if the iPad might be an objectively superior device in terms of performance. In other words, would you rather pay $500 for the top of the line device, or $150 for a slightly inferior, but still highly functional, tablet?
The iPad homescreens are boring. They feature the standard iOS grid of apps and nothing more. In fact, in that way the iPad is simply a larger iPhone. Apple has not yet taken advantage of the added real estate of the tablet form factor. That’s a shame, because it leaves its home screens wanting. It just doesn’t feel right to have these relatively large icons in the same grid as the iPhone. This is a tablet, not a smartphone. There should be something more.
Android tablets, like their smartphone counterparts, allow home screen widgets. These work well on Android smartphones, but because of the additional screen real estate they work even better on tablets. Users can decorate multiple home screens with widgets galore, leaving the icons to fill in the gaps. Additionally, many Android tablet manufacturers have created custom interfaces that further take advantage of a tablet’s size. That is to say: Android tablets are pushing forward the unique ways we can use tablets, while Apple is pushing a larger smartphone.
Before this past October, there was just one size to the iPad. If you wanted Apple’s tablet, you got their 10-inch model or you got nothing at all. While most consumers did not complain about this, others wanted something different. That led to sales of smaller Android tablets, such as the Kindle Fire and the Barnes and Noble Nook, along with alternatives such as the BlackBerry PlayBook. (Which, despite its poor reputation, didn’t sell as poorly as the media would have us believe.) Apple defeated that objection with the iPad Mini, but Android retains a variety of products that Apple can never match.
When shopping for an Apple tablet, consumers essentially have two choices, and the only real difference comes in size. When consumers shop for Android tablets they can choose among many different manufacturers. As mentioned above, many manufacturers, such as Lenovo, create customer UIs for their Android tablets, creating a larger variety of experiences. There are also multiple form factors for Android tablets. The additional options in terms of size allow Android tablets to stand out from the iPad.
Does Apple hold the dominant position in the tablet market? Certainly. Does the iPad perform better than its Android competitors? For the most part we can say that it does. But that doesn’t make the iPad superior in every way. Just as it took a while for Android smartphones to catch on with the mass market, so it has taken Android tablets time to play catch-up with the iPad. Manufacturers are finally making progress, and we’re starting to see Android tablets stand out and differentiate themselves. There are some absolutely good reasons to choose an Android tablet over the iPad.