Android - the winning formula for tablets and netbooks?
It's the only game in town, says the maker of the other iPad
What might the iPad have been? Apple announced it as a Magical and Revolutionary Device, defining "an entirely new category". But it actually only addresses a small part of the yawning gap between mobile handsets and notebook computers, where there's still a lot of defining to be done. There's space there for dramatically different reimaginations of the iPhone, for counter-attacks from handset companies, and for diverse devices based on Google's Android.
A few weeks ago, on the eve of the iPad's launch, The Register spoke to the iPad's designers - yes, that's right, Fujitsu. But we didn't talk about either the legal matter or that particular piece of Fujitsu hardware; the Fujitsu iPad is just one of a number of pen-tablet and touchscreen devices that Fujitsu has been selling into specialist and vertical markets for over 20 years. The company hasn't set the world on fire, certainly, but it has a lot of experience of building hardware in this sector - it knows the constraints and the market.
The 'iPad' that wasn't
We talked to Munich-based Meinolf Althaus, mobile clients sector director of product strategy, first about the Fujitsu 'iPad' we're never going to see. It wasn't going to be called the iPad, that brand being taken already even before Apple made a grab for it, but it would have been a far more overtly consumer device than Apple was going to present us with the very next day.
Apple's device, it's worth noting, is a pretty conservative one; Apple tells us you can use it to browse the web, send email, watch videos, read books - just like you already can with computers from Apple and a whole bunch of people.
Future content distribution deals may allow the Apple iPad to define that "entirely new category", but right now it looks like something intended to appeal far more to Apple's core computer-buying fan-base than to young mobile phone and iPod buyers. It's conservative both in terms of features and in target markets.
Fujitsu's planned device was anything but. Says Althaus: "We thought, let's do a device with a 6-7in screen, running Android, with hardware from Nvidia or Qualcomm, Snapdragon or Tegra." Like the Apple iPad, this was intended to be a data consumption device, but unlike the iPad it was to be small enough to be carried in a pocket. It would have been aimed at young people who would use it to consume music and video content, and to share that content, and it was intended to be voice-controlled. This latter aspect of the device was vital, in Althaus' opinion. "Voice is obvious."
The Register raised an eyebrow, wondering how voice control could function in the noisy clubs Althaus expected his target market to inhabit. But he retorted that voice recognition is now easily good enough to deal with this, to the extent that your phone could be better at hearing you than the friend standing right next to you. If he's right, then voice really could be a killer app for Android, and Google is right to keep pushing it.
Next page: Iconic device, or huge money pit?
Android has won
That Chinese $95 note pad vendor, making the generic Arm based resistive Android device, the one shut down by the German police for 'IP' violations.
When I did a check to see what else they made, I went to GlobalSources punched in Android and found it's pervasive throughout many many coming devices. e.g.
Here's the one that seems to have spooked Apple at Hannover:
Apple need Google, but Google doesn't need Apple. And I think that's why Apple does not directly sue Google, rather it threatens HTC, and tries to shut down Chinese vendors with its bogus patent claims.
They're afraid, and having seen that touch pads are a cheap commodity, when you then go look at iPad and all the pompous talk of 'new' and 'innovative' for a category of device that has already become a commodity you can see why.
It's the UI, stupid!
Remember the iPhone commercials? What really drummed up the hype? No specs, no checkboxes, no talk about openness, just, "Here's the iPhone. This is how you use it. See how it's so smooth and cures cancer with easy-to-understand pinch-and-zoom gestures."
Android still has miles to go in terms of UI look and more importantly, consistency. I use a G1 for reasons of carrier, and Android's inconsistency still bothers me a lot. Overloading the back button and having inconsistent placement of 'send/return' for the onscreen keyboard for example.
MeeGo, from what I can see, isn't even addressing UI. I've combed their website, and have yet to see a screenshot, Human-Interaction-Guidelines, or much beyond a few structural diagrams and 'Go to our IRC channel and Mailing List!'.
Paris knows the importance of good user interface.
What makes you think consumers care about Android?
Android - that means absolutely *nothing* to the vast majority of consumers out there.
Open Source - ditto
I don't know what the stats are, but I'm willing to bet 75% of those able to afford a device such as an iPad will know Apple = iPod/iPhone and will know Google = search.
If you tried to tell them that an Android platform would give them more freedom to do what they wanted with an iPhone or iPad like device, they wouldn't give a monkeys, for the simple fact, the tech *works* for them already.
Apple know who their target market are.
I don't see a viable iPad alternative appearing in the West anytime soon, but I'm sure there'll be a veritable feast of devices available in the East - there always is!
The Plain Truth
El Reg and other websites attract geeky people who know more than there is to know about computers. They are (probably) real wizzes with technology and the innards of phones, pads and computers.
They totally miss the point of Apple's strategy. They are so much up their own arses they can't see the train coming down the tracks.
Apple sells usability. Shininess and good industrial design are extras which are nice to have but not essential.
The reasons I use Mac at work and at home is because I'm NOT a geek. I just want my computer and phone to do what I want without a massively expensive IT staff to look after them. They work, for me, and I don't want to know HOW they work. I don't care if I can't download Jim Sproggett's Guide to the Complexities of C++ on my iPhone. I don't care if it's difficult to swap batteries in my iPod.
The plain truth is that the majority of people haven't a clue about computers. That's why IT staff make so much money and have so much influence in companies. They want computers just to work and if that is true for a Windows UI then that's fine.
Apple don't always get it right (Cube, TV etc.,) but when they do ... it gets BIG (they knocked Sony for six because Sony had its corporate head up its corporate bum). Same with the iPad. This device is what millions of users want ... a pretty device that switches on immediately, lets me read and reply to my emails, lets me surf the web, lets me read books, lets me watch films and, if I want, lets me do some basic stuff with flyers, accounts and the like. It's an absolute dream for millions of non-geeks.
And THAT is where Apple are clever. KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.
I want . . .
. . . . some of that kool aid you're drinking
Actually, come to think of it, perhaps not.
Windows has been a spectacular failure in the tablet market for 10 years now. Are you suggesting that this is simply down to the hardware being inadequate?
What apple have done with the iphone, and soon the ipad, is to demonstrate that punters don't want devices that are "miles more flexible" (read: complicated and trouble prone). What joe sixpack wants is a device that doesn't require constant maintenance and paranoid care just to keep the thing functional and not infected with malware.
Being pretty and fun to use helps a lot too.