The problem with all these Android tablets

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Android Tablets Mobile World Congress

As I've watched the rush of Android announcements flowing out of Mobile World Congress this week, I've found myself having a tough time getting excited about a lot of the stuff we're seeing. Don't get me wrong: There are certainly some interesting new devices on the horizon. But for every interesting device announced, it seems there are four others that are impossible to distinguish or remember.

Just look at some of the tablets that've surfaced lately. Now, I know: The specs on some of these devices do vary (especially with ones like the Awkward Name of the Year award winner Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, which is basically a mildly tweaked version of last year's Galaxy Tab 10.1). But plug 'em all in and throw 'em up on a store shelf, and most folks who look at them or even use them will be hard-pressed to tell them apart.

One of Android's greatest strengths as a platform is undoubtedly the level of choice it provides, and the variety of devices available is the perfect example of that principle in action. Unlike other mobile platforms, Android isn't a "one-size-fits-all" kind of ecosystem -- and that's fantastic. Differentiation is a good thing, despite what some critics may contend. But in order to have differentiation and any meaningful level of choice, you have to have products that, you know, are actually different in some meaningful kind of way.

Some product developers get it. Samsung's original Galaxy Tab 10.1 brought a sleek and sexy form to the Android tablet world. Asus's Transformer tablets offer an innovative laptop-like transformation potential. The new Galaxy Note tablet has a unique and interesting twist with its stylus-centric input system. Whether or not any of these concepts is your personal cup of tea, each of them stands out from the pack and makes a lasting impression.

As the Android tablet market continues to expand, standing out from the pack is becoming increasingly important. When asked to recommend a tablet to someone, there's simply nothing about a lot of these recent devices that'd lead me to suggest one over another. They're all just kind of...there.

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The Android tablet market is still in its infancy. Ultimately, the manufacturers that succeed will be the ones that manage to create something compelling that isn't just a carbon copy of 20 other existing products. Whether it's finding a unique form or setting your tablet apart with the quality or style of its build, you have to do something to avoid becoming another indistinguishable slate on an increasingly crowded shelf.

Google's made it clear it's committed to developing and strengthening the Android tablet ecosystem over the next year. Now the question is which manufacturers are up for the challenge -- and which are going to get lost in the shuffle.    

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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