Menage á tablet: Apple vs Amazon vs Google
The three-way fight for the 7in form-factor
Analysis The new tablet battleground is the seven-incher. The biggest names in the business are lining up to fight it out for dominance: Google, Amazon and Apple.
It's Apple's focus on larger formats that has depressed the 7in tablet market to date - or at least until Amazon shipped the Kindle Fire late last year.
Samsung's 7in Galaxy Tab was an early bright light, but it failed to illuminate the shadow cast by the 9.7in iPad. Later 7in tablets from many of the best-known names in computer hardware have failed to yank buyers' attention away from larger tablets.
Even RIM's BlackBerry Playbook didn't prompt a big shift from larger 9-10in tablets to the smaller, more pocketable form-factor.
The Kindle Fire changed that, but it's effect was limited by Amazon's decision to restrict sales to the US. There, the Fire initially did very well, timed as it was to tap into the 2011 Holiday gift-giving season and priced to sell.
The $199 Fire is undoubtedly the inspiration for Google's Nexus 7, a 7in tablet that is not only out to beat the Fire in physical terms - a fast Tegra 3 CPU, a higher resolution display, a sleeker design - but to pitch Google Play as a viable alternative to Amazon's content selling system.
Popularising the 7in form-factor
Both tablets are less about providing a new, useful mobile computing platform as being on-the-go shopfronts for each firm's online retail outlets.
Google has dropped hints about the Nexus 7 at various points during the year, and spec leaks have come thick and fast too. But even without them, Amazon would have been preparing a smarter follow-up to the slab-like Fire.
The latest whispers have it due for announcement and/or release this August, though an earlier introduction - especially if Amazon plans to finally make the Fire available outside the US - would be more sensible, allowing the company to tap into Europe's big summer holiday period.
Reports suggest the new one will the thinner - well, you don't say… - which will up production costs, making it harder for Amazon to hit the $199 price point. A better assembled display, to eliminate the gap between the touchpanel and the LCD beneath, will add $10 to Amazon's manufacturing costs, DigiTimes reports industry insiders as claiming.
Amazon's model is surely predicated on offering the Fire as a loss-leader to encourage content sales which bring in the real money, so it's probably less concerned about extra costs here as ensuring rival offerings - step forward, Nexus 7 - don't eat into its own sales.
It also needs to get in quickly before Apple makes a play and releases a 7in device that would surely extinguish the current Kindle Fire.
Next page: Enter... Apple
Re: iOS has a good UI?
By your own admission, yes, it does.
The very definition of a good user interface is that it "gets out of your way".
Apple's design philosophy is, basically, "KISS" so, yes, iOS is deliberately designed to be "simple".
Choice is a means to an end, not an end in itself. This is something the Open Source communities seem particularly blind to. A choice that isn't meaningful or useful is of no interest to most people and can actually interfere with their tasks, so Apple's designers are very ruthless about paring their interfaces down to the absolute minimum necessary. Good design is as much about knowing what to leave out as it is about simply adding new features.
For the vast majority of use cases, iOS is spot-on. Only a tiny minority of users will bump into the edges of its design hard enough to feel the urge to complain about it. The same can be said for Microsoft's "Metro" interface.
Android is the exact opposite: it takes the traditional FOSS philosophy of "We include everything, including the kitchen sink, and damn the usability!" approach. That is going to bite Android in the arse hard. Already, we're seeing devices launched with versions of Android that are easily two generations ahead of the vast majority of the market. Why would I target ICS and Jelly Bean when fully 70-80% of Android users are still running the 2.x series? Android is already suffering from the Lowest Common Denominator Effect, where most developers target the largest market sector. As the 2.x series was intended for smartphones, almost every app you run on your tablet will be just a stretched phone app, with very, very few exceptions.
Incidentally, the above is exactly why Apple deliberately chose to make iPhone apps look crap on the iPad. Yes, they're usable, but they're clearly not at home on that platform. This encourages developers to do the right thing and treat the iPad as a separate target, instead of just relying on the underlying OS to stretch their mobile phone user interfaces onto a 9" tablet display the way many Android developers do.
Microsoft are taking a similar hard-line stance with their Windows Phone 7 / 8 and Windows 8 releases: you're expected to target the form-factor, not just the OS.
Google used to be good at design once. Their original search website was a study in minimalism.
Price not size
I suspect 7" tablets are bought by the vast majority of people because they are cheap, not because of their size. Even with the somewhat beta OS, surely the PlayBook would have sold better if 7" was the killer size.
iOS has a good UI?
Really? I've only got iOS devices - I'd describe the UI as 'simple', 'effective', 'easy to use', but it isn't particularly 'good', merely adequate. The best thing about it is how it gets out of your way.
Comparing it with Android UIs, I'm distinctly unimpressed by iOS. They have much more control over how information is pushed and displayed, often you only have to look at the lock screen to get the info you need, where as on iOS you have to go hunting a little for it.
The best thing about iOS UI is its consistency, which only happens because it is so simple.