Android Tablets Beware: iPad-Style Success Takes a Sales Channel: Analyst

Coming off a Google junket featuring the Moto Xoom and "Honeycomb," one analyst warns that iPad-style success is about more than hardware and software.

Android-running tablets preparing to join the market that Apple created, and now dominates, with its iPad are looking "ready for prime time," DisplaySearch senior analyst Richard Shim wrote in a Feb. 4 research note.

The note followed a Google "Honeycomb" event Feb. 2 during which attendees were able to use Google's tablet-optimized Android 3.0, known as Honeycomb, on the Motorola Xoom tablet. The experience of using Android on a large screen, said Shim, enables a "greater graphical usage experience and more opportunity for media-based multitasking."

With a number of iPad competitors now set to launch from the industry's biggest players - among them Research In Motion, Motorola and PC-market-leader Hewlett-Packard - the remaining question, said Shim, is how the tablets should be sold.

"This will be an essential element in the ultimate success of Android tablets," wrote Shim.

Underlining the point, Shim offers the example of netbooks, which in the end the carriers weren't great at selling, and which saw high rates of return. Part of the problem was technical support, with customers unsure of whether to contact the carrier, the device maker or even the operating system company.

"If [the answer is] the carrier, there are questions around how well equipped they are to solve the problem," wrote Shim. "Carrier tech support is essentially trained to tell the user to turn off the device and turn it back on as a fix." There's also the issue of users buying WiFi-only versions, to pass on the expense of a carrier contract.

Or, is a tablet more a PC than a smartphone? (The original Dell Streak, with its too-big-to-be-a-phone, too-small-to-be a tablet 5-inch display, was a perfect example of a device that was tugged in both directions but a perfect fit for neither.) If so, says Shim, consider the big PC brands, such as Dell, HP and Acer, that have "tried to create and sell smartphones [but] already failed." The retail channels where PCs are sold, he explains, are a poor fit for smartphones, as they generally don't receive any ongoing revenue from smartphones' voice and data plans.

Google, with its Nexus One, tried still a new tack, selling the device directly, instead of through its carrier partner, T-Mobile - which, notoriously, was a disaster.

That tablets aren't a neat fit for any specific channel makes the decision of how best to sell them problematic.

"We have already started to see some of this tablet channel confusion with the Samsung Galaxy Tab," said Shim. "The company said it had shipped around 2 million tablets since the product's introduction in November, but actual sell-through seems to be less brisk."

The one company that all of this apparently isn't an issue for, is Apple, states the note. Copying the success of the iPad, it turns out, will take more than just cool hardware and tablet-optimized software.

"Apple's iPad is selling well in retail - its own retail - but no one else is replicating the Apple store experience," wrote Shim. "If others are to come close to Apple's success, they will have to create a compelling sales channel."