There’s been a lot of yapping in the press recently about how Android is just about doomed in the tablet space, because of REASONS. The actual reasons vary, and none of them have much basis in fact, but speculation is what the tech press does before announcement season, and hey, inflammatory headlines make with the clicky clicky.
Ed Bott at ZDNet thinks that while he wouldn’t want to use an iPad as his primary computer because of the compromises Apple has made to the mobile experience, he can use his Windows RT (the ARM version of Windows 8) tablet to get actual work done. But a lot of the arguments he makes in favor of the Windows RT tablet work just as well, if not better, in Android. He says he can use a real file system in Windows RT. Same with Android. He can plug in a USB thumb drive and copy files back and forth in Windows RT. I do this all time with not only my Nexus 7, but my Galaxy Nexus phone as well. The problem here isn’t with Android’s capabilities, but rather with boomers associating Microsoft with personal computing. I think the next generation, entering the workforce now, won’t have that mental block.
Nilay Patel and Dieter Bohn at the Verge say that Google better get its act together or “watch from the sidelines as Microsoft mounts the first serious challenge to the iPad.” While I agree that Google needs to pick up its game if it wants to compete with the iPad, something it’s already doing with the Nexus 7, I see no evidence that Microsoft is serious about anything. If Microsoft succeeds with Windows 8, it will be in spite of Steve Ballmer, not thanks to him. Microsoft has made one boneheaded, consumer-hostile decision after another with Windows 8, and I think it’s going to go over like a lead balloon.
I think the tech media is wrong. And here’s why. Windows 8 is a completely new, untested platform. It has zero market share at the moment, and there’s no reason to think it’s just going to take over. The tablet/laptop hybrids Windows 8 is built for are a new class of hardware, which also hasn’t been tested by the marketplace. We don’t know if they are going to sell.
Windows 8 will gain market share on desktops and classic laptops because it will not only be the only choice when you walk into Best Buy (however long that lasts, I give BB 2 years before they follow Circuit City and CompUSA into retail oblivion), but also because Windows 8 prevents you from downgrading to Windows 7 or installing Linux over it. It’s a “security” feature. So a lot of consumers are going to get stuck with it when they buy a family PC.
But tablets? Right now, Windows (7) tablet marketshare is minuscule compared to Android tablets, much less the iPad. And we have no evidence at all that this will change when Windows 8 ships. I’ve said here and elsewhere that I think Microsoft will be lucky if Windows 8 is only another Vista. I think it may be the incentive for a lot of users to ditch Microsoft entirely. If you’re going to learn a whole new way of using a computer, why wouldn’t you go with a more tested, more widely used option like Android or iOS?
And while Android isn’t much of a player compared to iOS in tablets today, history tends to repeat itself. For a long time, the iPhone was the undisputed leader in smartphones. Now it’s got 17% of the smartphone market. Android has 68%. Until the Nexus 7, there weren’t many compelling Android tablets. They were too thick, too slow and too expensive compared to the iPad. The tables have turned, and now the iPad is running to catch up, trying to get into the 7″ tablet market.
In five years, I think Windows 8 tablets will be a footnote, the iPad will be a niche, boutique product and Android tablets will be the primary computer most people use. It has happened before. It will happen again.