The coming tablet wars and what it means for IT
by Pete Gerr on February 11, 2011
As I watched last week’s Google event previewing the upcoming 3.0 (Honeycomb) version of their Android OS, I couldn’t help contrasting it to all the Apple events I’ve watched and how different the two were. Putting the showmanship aside for a minute, I follow iOS vs. Android closely, the different strategies with which Apple and Google approach almost everything, and I wonder ultimately if Google’s commitment to openness, freedom and complete flexibility of its Android OS will translate well to the larger tablet format as it has on smartphones? I’m not so sure…
The Honeycomb event showcased some of the new features that Google is delivering to app developers and tablet manufacturers. A second major front in the war for your geek dollars is opening. It’s been iPhone vs. Android-based phones the past couple years, but now get ready for iPad vs. a slew of Android-based tablets from dozens of manufacturers. The ways in which we create, share and consume information continue to evolve and expand at a rapid and accelerating pace.
The consumer angle of this catches most headlines, but many enterprises and IT departments are wrestling with growing usage of tablets on their LANs. Tablets are ultra-portable, but bring with them a slew of new security and access challenges and will likely accelerate support for and adoption of cloud services. Tablets are the next evolutionary step in devices that allow us to create, access and share information and mobility of access really demand the flexibility that cloud-based services and storage provide.
Beyond the headlines Apple and Google are very different companies with remarkably different approaches to product development, design strategy and go-to-market models. I’ll contrast Apple and Google’s strategies more in an upcoming post, but to simplify the differences here: I like to say that Google “evolves” – releasing new, incrementally improved versions of its products on an accelerated timetable; Apple, on the other hand, “arrives” – with 12- to 18-month intervals between product releases that are always launched to fanfare and marketed as “the next big thing” (and often are). In fact last week’s Honeycomb event looked like an impromptu meeting of a few dozen developers in a conference room somewhere in the Googleplex (which it pretty much was, I think).
Two separate, but optimized versions of Android will allow Google and the smartphone and tablet manufacturers it supplies compete more aggressively with Apple. That said, having spent part of my career in product management and having navigated through a major OS branch-and-merge project, the complexity (and cost) of developing, managing and marketing Android versions with different interop matrices, different features and different code will undoubtedly increase.
From a developer and consumer perspective Honeycomb looks really sharp and should offer another great platform to develop upon – and that might be just what undermines, or at least slows, Android’s momentum. Splitting the Android developer community along two code trees, two SDKs, OS versions with similar but different feature sets and divergent application libraries isn’t headline news, perhaps but will most certainly impact Android.
Whether this will be a positive or negative development over the long-term remains to be seen. While Google’s development agility and rapid iteration of the Android code has helped it quickly mature and become competitive with Apple’s iPhone, it seems to have reached a maturity and stability point in its lifecycle where Google feels a code split is more beneficial than risky. Google certainly doesn’t want to fiddle with the Android formula, which surpassed Apple in both market share for smartphone OSes in November 2010, and the influential mobile ad impressions for the first time in December 2010.
Google has promised to widen the gap between Android versions to make it easier on developers and device manufacturers – and probably less confusing for consumers with dozens of devices to choose from and more appearing every day. So it will be very interesting (and yummy) year for geeks with Honeycomb, Ice cream, iPad 2 and many Android-based tablets to compete with it.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on it as it plays out, and sharing my thoughts about what impact the tablet wars will have on IT and enterprise information.
Comments (3 )
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good stuff. I still don’t see how andriod will keep up. Although i think the Android model is more preferred (greater choices, competition drives down price, more developers, etc.) for most consumers. Apple just has such a lead at this time….
And now you have HP coming out with their own tablet based on WebOS. I think this is a tough slog for them:
1.Their focus will be enterprise. Its what they know. And it will not have the appeal in the consumer crowd that apple has. Apple = cool. HP = uncool (or printers, take your pick, both uncool).
2.The success of the platform is directly related to the number of apps. iOS and Android are the top platforms to develop to. Why would I develop for WebOS?
3.Apple has a huge head start.
4.Apple and Android (on multiple HW platforms) are in this game big also. Does HP have the fortitude to do battle here?
5.No Microsoft help. HP has tied their wagons to MS for the most part. Not in this case – they are riding this solo. Unless they could convince MS to give up the ghost which is doubtful. If they could get MS Office on the TouchPad that would be a coup.
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