Samsung's lovely illegal tablet: Why no one wants to know
Even without injunctions, it's a hard sell
Analysis Quite unexpectedly I found myself in possession of some very hot, illegal property last week. Not a looted plasma TV but rather the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which thanks to legal injunctions is disappearing from channels all over Europe. Vodafone is the latest to cancel its orders.
It is a beautifully designed piece of hardware, but I fear it would soon be disappearing even without a shove from Apple's lawyers. It faces a dilemma shared by many other competitors, one I pondered on recently: it is extremely hard to sell a rival tablet right now.
There are more excuses than solutions.
Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang recently offered up one or two. "It's a point-of-sales problem. It's an expertise-at-retail problem. It's a marketing problem to consumers," he explained, before adding, for good measure: "It is a price-point problem. And it's a software richness of content problem."
Is that enough?
I took the Tab through its paces to see if Samsung had drawn any closer to resolving this apathy. This isn't a review – we've already run a very entertaining one here – but more of a whodunnit.
Midway between a computer and a dumb screen, the iPad makes a difficult target for rivals to aim at. I cannot emphasise enough the fact that iPad appears to have no killer app or singularly compelling use case – but it is phenomenally popular in spite of that. Aiming at the iPad is even harder now Apple is achieving some success at defending its design work, thanks to 38 lawsuits from Cupertino.
If you want the 20-second summary of the new Tab, here it is. Samsung has evidently thought long and hard about the problem, and in its second generation product, made a really fine piece of hardware. But for its software Samsung almost entirely relies on Google, and the Tab shows Google doesn't know what to aim at either. Rather like a foreign stenographer who's not familiar with the language they're transcribing, Google has come up a rather literal translation. It leaves the Samsung tablet midway between a computer and a dumb screen, too.
I'll start with the hardware. Samsung aims for the Sony crown these days, and this is evident in the design of the Tab.
The Tab is purposely a landscape-oriented device, which makes sense for watching movies but not many other use cases. People who want to use the device for reading e-books, for reading web pages, for perusing Twitter and Facebook streams, and for handling email in volume, want to maximise the vertical viewing area. Most of these "views" are list views. Portrait is still the best option here. So being primarily landscape is a differentiator, yes, but one that leaves the user turning the device through 90 degrees far more often than they should need to, and (as I found) leaves the main controls far away from where the hands usually rest. It is very light, making the original iPad feel like a monster, is nicely tapered and strongly and discretely put together. As you'd expect from a Samsung, the screen is terrific. It's a beautiful machine to hold and use.
Although the Tab has a slot for removable storage, it has been criticised for lacking HDMI and USB ports, and for aping the iPhone and iPod's one-connector-only design. These criticisms are merited, I think. You have to try harder when you're not the market leader, and while Apple makes a minority of users who want HD output or photo-import ability jump through hoops (aka, spending another £25 per dongle), this kind of value should be bundled.
Points to Jen-Hsun Huang
as the man says, it is a "why bother" problem.
To beat the market leader you need to be one or both of:
* twice as good
* half the price.
it isn't, and it isn't.
2 year olds
Interestingly, I conducted an expirment with my own < 2 year old daughter.
My wife and I have "his and hers" xoom and ipad tablets. When handed to our < 2 year old, the following was noted:
- Neither were destroyed or broken, and both screens resistant to milk and slavers.
- The ipad was the preferred device if measuring hours-used
- The ipad had the the better games for 2 year olds
- It was easier to find the games on the ipad
- The UI screens were faster/smoother on the ipad (those with 2 years old will understand why this is important)
- The ipad was quicker to rotate
For its ruthless UI simplicity, the ipad is the preferred device, even if it sacrifices UI features to achieve it. It's proven to be successful. Simplicity is universally useful, from 2 year olds to Grandma.
Why test on a 2 year old? Because they bring no pre-conceptions about UI, and don't use problem-solving skills or brain power to compensate for any UI deficiencies.
I think the point is that a lot of the not-Apple tables are being built by companies who have no idea what they are for or why people buy them (or rather why people buy the iPad). As a result you get products that can feel a little half-baked or directionless.
Take the Playbook, for example, RIM is famous for BBM and push mail. So, what do they bring out? A device that does neither (unless you have a BlackBerry to pair it to).
Great, now I can buy a tablet that does Flash, but is useless for something somewhat more important unless I also change my phone. Remind me why I would want one? Oh yeah, it does Flash. I can see all of the internet. Except my mail. Maybe I'll just buy a netbook instead.