Android Versus the iPad

What does this mean for businesses?

G. Cäsar, 2011-05-17

There are several posts debating the question of which one makes the better choice:  Tablets based on Honeycomb (Android) or the iPad. Jason Kincaid wrote recently a TechCrunch article about this very issue:  If you’d asked me a week ago what I thought about Honeycomb, the tablet version of Android, I would have said that it was in very bad shape and that it would be several months before it could even hold a candle to the iPad 2.” He further explains why he changed his mind and came to the following conclusion:  But I think that will change soon . . . I think this new wave of better, lighter Android tablets will spur people to actually buy them, so developers will have a bigger incentive to optimize their apps for the tablet. iPad sales won’t suffer in the slightest (it is still much more polished and intuitive than Honeycomb, and probably always will be). But, just as we saw with Android on mobile phones, I’m guessing Honeycomb’s growth is going to start rapidly accelerating around one month from now.” You can read his full post here: http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/15/honeycomb-has-a-fighting-chance-against-the-ipad/

To evaluate this question, we have to keep in mind that there definitely exists more than just one relevant market segment for tablets. On one hand, there is the end consumer who wants to browse the Web, listen to music, and watch videos and more on his tablet.  On the other hand, there is the business customer who wants to use tablets in his/her business processes to demonstrate product features during customer meetings, for taking notes, for making presentations, to answer e-mails, to e-sign contracts, and so on.

For end consumers who are typically non tech-savvy, the iPad, which remains much more polished and intuitive than does Android, and likely always will be, might be the premium choice for the next few years to come. In that segment, the big chance for Android is to offer a broader selection of tablets for a much more attractive, competitive price than Apple and, thus, conquer a large portion of those consumers who like the idea of the tablets, but cannot afford one or are not willing to pay the premium for the iPad. This could lead to a huge market share for Android while Apple continues to earn high margins on their devices.

However, what about the business segment?

  • First of all, currently, iPad and Android are the two most discussed platforms among our tablet customers, at least for the time being. Many of the customer discussions or inquiries begin with questions such as, “Do you offer software for e-signing contracts on the iPad?” My best guess as to why customers today are initially asking primarily for the iPad is that the iPad was the very first mover in that space, and thus many managers own an iPhone or iPad already and simply want to utilize the WOW factor of these devices for their brands--especially in customer-facing scenarios. As such, these customers are asking their IT departments, “Can we use iPads for our business processes too?” After a short discussion has taken place, two things typically happen. Either the company is completely neutral regarding the iPad or Android (>80% of the cases), or one of the board members is an Apple fan boy, and, therefore, no serious evaluation takes place, and the decision for the tablet hardware has been more or less already made.  In cases in which the company is completely neutral, the trend is moving slightly toward the Android when a more detailed discussion takes place. This is due to the better support that Android offers to business environments.
  • The platform itself is much more open and not as strict as  the Apple ecosystem is, 
    • it’s much easier to deploy applications in a “secret” way, as one is used to - as in today’s laptop world in which you do not want other people to know about the application and have the chance to download it, 
    • With iOS development, the initial startup costs are perceived to be high. (Remark: Once it is up and running, the Android build, deploy and debug cycle is not as fast as it is in Xcode.  Article in GIGAOM: http://gigaom.com/apple/mac-dev-notes-ios-and-android-development-compared/ ).
    • it’s relatively easy to use existing apps and upgrade them to customized apps for special business purposes, including for the customer’s own IT personnel, because the app development is done in Java,
    • there are many different tablet types available containing different, useful features like the HTC Flyer with its stylus that is perfect for capturing signatures.
  • Some iPad's are still having issues with the device's Wi-Fi connection. But undoubtably the iPad 2 is a pretty cool device.
  • All of these factors make me believe that we will see Android slightly dominating the business space, as it easier and faster to find a perfect-fitting device and to customize the app for the business process in question.
  • I would not underestimate Microsoft’s and Nokia’s capabilities to fight back next year with an improved version of Windows Phone and some new tablets, but for the time being, we know no single customer who is seriously considering this as an alternative to the iPad or Android.
  • RIM (Blackberry) is also in a very tough spot and could be forced, as is Nokia with Symbian, to switch completely or partially to a new platform like Android. Only time will tell.  
  • Maybe Amazon enters the game as well. TechCrunch launched an article stating that Amazon needs to make their own devices with a customized version of Android that is centered around their software/experience.
  • Last but not least, for feature-rich applications that are used on today’s Laptops, the Windows 7 platform in combination with tablets like the new Fujitsu STYLISTIC Q550 Slate PC - http://www.engadget.com/2011/05/09/fujitsus-stylistic-q550-business-slate-up-for-us-pre-orders-st/ - is something that definitely should be considered. The Fujitsu device has the form factor of the new tablet area with all of its advantages, AND existing applications run right out of the box.  Additionally, the devices come with a great deal of security features for businesses and uses a well-known and familiar platform for the IT department. I would not be surprised if this tablet ends up selling very well in the business community. IT managers might just eat this up.

One thing is obvious. For Whomever it is who ultimately wins this competition: In many companies, there is serious interest in getting rid of typical laptops in customer-facing processes. We will see a broad use of iPads, Android tablets, and my best guess, WIN7 devices, too, such as the Fujitsu Q550 Slate in the business area in the coming years.

The following two videos show e-signing on the iPad and on Android: