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Android, Steve Jobs, and Apple's '90%' tablet share

Xoom and gloom in Android land

Open...and Shut Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently took the stage to pound the drum for the company's dominance of the nascent tablet market. "We own 90 per cent of the tablet market!" he crowed during the launch event of the iPad 2.

It's not surprising that Jobs chose to focus on the iPad's success. After all, despite a similar keynote with nearly identical slideware trumpeting the iPhone's dominance just a year earlier, the iPhone no longer dominates. Android does. Even as Jobs stood on stage and sniggered at Android's 9 per cent US market share, Android was on a 615 per cent growth spurt that saw Android topple Apple's iPhone domination just a few short months later.

The same is almost certainly going to happen to Apple in the tablet market. It has to. Apple's business model requires it.

Apple is fantastic at fostering growth in new markets. It is terrible at maintaining market share. Why? Because Apple is not a market-share leader, with very few exceptions (e.g., the digital music market). Indeed, Apple's high-margin, premium-pricing business model demands that the company cede market share as it hoards the high end of a market.

All of which suggests that those who deride Motorola's early Xoom sales clearly aren't paying attention.

Sure, the Xoom was handicapped from the start, as betanews' Joe Wilcox points out, by its high price and its ties to Verizon. But Android's success isn't about the Xoom or any other particular device.

It's about all of them. Lots and lots and lots of them.

That's how Android is winning the smartphone race. Early reviews of Android phones were much the same as early reviews of Android tablets: each reviewer basically says "Not as good as the iPhone/iPad."

And yet they sell. They sell because they're everywhere, they're cheaper, and they're good enough. Just like Windows on the desktop, back in its day.

Yes, Larry Dignan over at ZDNet may be right that teen survey data may bode well for Apple's long-term success in these markets, but I'm betting that even many teens who aspire to an iPad will end up with an Android tablet. It's often not their paycheck that is buying the gadget. Beggars can't be choosers.

But this is being unfair to Android devices. The new Samsung Galaxy Tabs, and particularly the 8.9, are worthy of serious covetousness. Thinner, lighter, cheaper, faster ... and Android-based. I have an iPad, and mostly use it to entertain my kids. But I can see myself carrying the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 and using it in my work. (I'm sure my kids will also find a way to pilfer it.)

Again, analysts reviewing the Xoom should be careful not to miss the forest for the trees. Taken individually, a Xoom or even a Galaxy Tab may not stack up against the iPad. But they don't have to. Android is all about volume, not any particular device. It's about being everywhere at minimal cost to device manufacturers and carriers, and more than good enough to consumers.

Android is winning the smartphone market-share war with this strategy. I expect we'll see the same thing play out in tablets ... and any other market Apple chooses to create. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.

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