Five ways Android tablets can catch up to the iPad

Expect plenty of Android tablets to be unveiled at the upcoming CES show in Las Vegas this week. For now, sales of Android tablets are well behind the iPad's. Here are five ways that Android tablets can catch up.

Cut prices

Given the iPad's dominance in tablets, Android tablets will have to launch a price war. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example, is an excellent tablet, but its initial $599 price tag was far too high --- higher than the entry-level iPad. At this point, Android tablets will have to undercut the iPad to compete.

There's evidence that's starting to happen. The Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example, has just been cut to $499 by Verizon. And the New York Times reports that a $350, 7-inch Android tablet from a company called Enspert will be unveiled at CES. To catch up, Android tablet makers will have to be aggressive in their price-cutting.

Ship Honeycomb --- fast!

Android version 3.0, code-named Honeycomb, will be the first version of Android designed specifically for tablets, although it will also run on smartphones. Among other features, Honeycomb will fix the sizing problem that some apps have with tablets. And it will allow Android tablets to run 10-inch screens, like the iPad, not the smaller 7-inch ones. Google needs to get Honeycomb out the door as fast as possible.

Double up on cameras

The Samsung Galaxy Tab had both front-facing and rear-facing cameras, allowing for video calls and videoconferencing. Right now, the iPad doesn't have both sets of cameras, although it's possible the next generation of iPads will. Either way, to succeed, Android tablets need two sets of cameras.

Pump up the video

The Times article points out that high-quality video is key to a tablet's success, noting that market research shows that

above all, consumers want to use tablets for all kinds of media consumption --- watching films, looking at and sharing photographs, playing games.

That means that Android tablets must have high-quality screens and powerful chips. They can't scrimp on quality.

Android tablet makers will need to do more than just offer faster chips and better screens, though. They need more extras as well. Adding HDMI ports would be a help, for example, And Android tablet makers would also do well to stress that their tablets can run Flash video, something that iPads can't do.

Developers, developers, developers!

The New York Times article points out:

Apple's experience with the iPad has also shown that consumers place a high value on the number and quality of apps. And so no matter how good tablets look in Las Vegas at the electronics show, the competition will continue as developers begin to write apps for the various devices.

"You can build these devices, which is great, but it's no longer enough to say, 'O.K., you have the Internet," said Mr. Donovan of comScore. "You need developers."

Donovan's absolutely right. Google did an excellent job of making sure that the Android app market was seeded, and it should do the same for apps written specifically for Android tablets. Android tablets should have a natural advantage over the iPad when it comes to apps --- freedom to download what you want, rather than being told by Apple what you can and can't download. But to a certain extent, it's a numbers game, so Google needs to make sure that there are plenty of tablet-specific apps being written.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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