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Digital River - Talk to the Experts

Galaxy Tab: iPad's Nemesis Hurtles Into View

By Paul Hartsock
Nov 13, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Even though tablet computers have existed for years, the arrival of the iPad put a new twist on the concept. Although Apple has managed to be the only high-profile tablet maker in town for several months, iPad sales numbers made it clear that it wouldn't have this new niche to itself forever.

Galaxy Tab: iPad's Nemesis Hurtles Into View

A few companies bravely jumped in early with their offerings, but they've remained relatively obscure. Well, no more of that. The honeymoon's over -- Samsung has released its Galaxy Tab, a tablet computer that runs on the Android operating system.

So how does this newcomer compare? For one thing, the Galaxy has a 7-inch screen instead of the iPad's 10-incher. Apple CEO Steve Jobs made it a point to bash 7-inch screens during an investor conference call last month, basically saying they're too little to be adequate tablets and too big to be real smartphones.

I guess some people will think a 7-inch screen is harder to type on. Some will think it's easier. It's definitely easier to tote around a smaller device, and that screen measurement may even affect the Galaxy's app outlook.

With the 10-inch iPad, you can technically use some iPhone apps on the tablet. They don't look good, though, since they're designed for a much smaller screen. Developers serious about selling to the iPad crowd have to design specific iPad apps that take advantage of the whole screen.

Meanwhile, the Android Market has very, very few apps designed specifically for the Galaxy's 7-inch screen. Most of the apps Galaxy owners will use -- for now, anyway -- will be regular old Android apps designed for smaller smartphone screens. They'll just scale up to 7 inches. Will they look like crap after inflating that much? Perhaps not -- going from about 4 to 7 inches isn't that much of a stretch. If the 7-inch format is a winner for tablets, maybe Android developers won't have to spend any time at all making a separate app just to address tablet users.

There's also the Flash factor -- Galaxy's got it, iPad doesn't, and probably won't ever. Users of other iOS devices seem to want Flash. A new browser called "Skyfire" arrived in the App Store last week, and it promises the ability to play Flash videos through the iPhone. It proved to be pretty popular. Galaxy users, of course, won't have to download a separate browser; their browsers will have Flash built in.

But how much does the iPhone's lack of Flash really hurt it? It used to be a pretty glaring shortcoming in iOS Safari. Now, though, a lot of Web video channels are making their content play nice with the native iOS browser, so the need to whip out a separate app to handle Flash comes up less and less frequently.

Galaxy also has a few other things the iPad doesn't, for the time being: dual cameras and multitasking. Actually, that multitasking bit may not be technically true depending on when you see this. Apple's expected to release an update literally any minute now that will give iPad multitasking. It can't really add cameras by way of a software update, but that's likely high on the list of iPad 2 features. When iPad 2 will come, though, that's the mystery. Could be April ... June ... August ... who knows?

Listen to the podcast (13:10 minutes).

Boomerang Generation

A few years ago, Nokia had what sounded like a plausibly decent idea at the time: Send Symbian, its mobile OS, out into the wild world of open source, where it could meet new cultures and flourish outside the constraints of the strict corporate rules it had at home. It was like going off to college.

The nonprofit Symbian Foundation was started to oversee the platform's development, and the hope was that the world's most popular smartphone OS at the time could get a good education and turn into something that would easily maintain its edge over these upstarts in the wings -- Android and iPhone.

It's now two and a half years later, and Symbian still holds the title of the world's most popular smartphone OS. However, it's clearly losing ground fast to Android and iPhone, not to mention the fact that Microsoft is finally back in the game with a new mobile OS of its own. It won't be long before a rival claims larger numbers.

Nokia as a company still happens to be the world's biggest overall cellphone vendor, but the story behind that statistic is similar: More and more of its sales have been coming from low-margin feature phones rather than powerful devices running a true smartphone platform.

Not only that, but it seems not even Nokia thinks Symbian's up to the task of going head-to-head with Apple's or Android's varsity squad. Last summer, it announced that its top-shelf line of N-series smartphones would begin shipping with MeeGo, the love child of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo platforms. Symbian's still shipping on some Nokia smartphones, but not the high-line stuff.

So Nokia's ordered Symbian to come home. The Symbian Foundation has been relieved of its development responsibilities; now development will happen behind Nokia's doors. The foundation will focus on stuff like licensing.

Nokia characterized the move as a reaffirmation of its commitment to the Symbian platform, but that platform's future now is very foggy. The massive leadership shake-up happening at Nokia means a lot of the executives who likely championed Symbian years ago are either out the door or working for a new boss. Now that Symbian's younger half-brother is the main focus of Nokia's smartphone software R&D, and now that the older OS has basically been pulled out of college and told to go back to living in its parents' basement, its future is not bright.

Android Ascendant

But just how quickly is Symbian bleeding out? Well, market research firm Gartner just so happens to have published some statistics on that topic this week, and the numbers don't look good for Nokia. Its smartphone platform had 36.6 percent of the market in the third quarter of the year. In the third quarter of 2009, it had 44.6 percent.

So if this trend continues, which platform is going to inherit the title? I'm not going to bet on Research In Motion -- BlackBerry just keeps coming up short lately. Hardware-wise, its latest big thing, the Torch, was not superstar material. It has the big corporate accounts and its fair share of religious fanatics, but number one in the world? Nah.

I guess it's not even fair to mention Windows Phone 7 at this point. It didn't make it onto Gartner's charts because it wasn't even available in the third quarter, but let's give it a year or two before even including it in these types of conversations.

iPhone is going strong, but at this moment, the numbers aren't on its side. There's just one company behind the device, and in a lot of markets, including the U.S., it's tied to a single carrier. Besides, Apple is what it is despite -- or possibly because of -- the fact that it rarely dominates in terms of market share.

Sheer market share momentum right now belongs to Android. The thing with Android is that it's freely distributed -- anyone can use it. Even I could set up shop and start selling Android phones, if I knew thing one about building them. Wouldn't have to shake any hands or sign any license agreements or anything. Big hardware players -- HTC, Motorola, Samsung -- have all latched on, declared themselves Android acolytes, and pushed out millions of handsets over a multitude of carriers.

The acceleration has been remarkable. According to Gartner's figures, in Q3 of 2010, Android claimed the second place in the market share race with 25.5 percent. A year ago, it was at 3.5 percent. That would be pretty impressive if the market had stayed the same size, but that's far from the truth. The overall cellphone market grew 35 percent over the last year, and a big part of that growth was driven by increased smartphone sales.

So Very Disappointed

Being caught in the middle of a feud between your two most-used websites can bring about an odd brew of emotions. For those who have painfully unmet needs to feel cared for and special, well, there you go. Two companies are fighting over your data. On top of that, it can be a little frustrating, but also somewhat amusing, like two heavyweight boxers having a slap fight.

The two big guys in question are Google and Facebook. It used to be that Facebook used a Google API to let its users import their Gmail contacts' information directly into Facebook. All this information you have about your friends and neighbors in Gmail could just be sent over to your Facebook account with the click of a button.

But Google said Facebook didn't know how to give back. It'd prompt users to grab their Gmail contacts, but Gmail had no way of dipping into users' friends lists. So up went the barricade. Facebook lost access to the API and could no longer import contacts.

It might not sound like that big a deal to Facebook pros who already have four-figure friend counts. But when you're just getting started with Facebook, it can really help you find your bearings and branch out by being able to automatically load up your Gmail list.

So Facebook got out the shovel and started digging under the wall. Google may have blocked Facebook's access to this particular data chute, but Google does allow all users to export their data directly to themselves. It's your data -- just ask and you shall receive. So Facebook built an automated deep link that taps into this general data spigot and then pipes the info right back into Facebook. Same result from the user's point of view, but a complete subversion of Google's intentions on the back end.

So far, it seems Google's decided to pretty much leave it at that, though it doesn't sound like it's all that happy about it. In its response, it even whipped out the D-word, the golden gun in any PR writer's arsenal of passive-aggressive terminology: "disappointed." Specifically, it's disappointed that Facebook can suck data out of Google's tubes but Google can't suck anything out of Facebook's. Where's the reciprocity?

The spat is really just one part of an escalating conflict between two of the biggest companies on the Web. Facebook's pushing out more and more features that could grow into serious threats to Google's ad model, and if -- as expected -- Google's next move is to pull off a social networking play that's several shades cleverer than that Buzz disaster, Facebook could have its first major competitor on its hands since it took down an already sick and weakened MySpace.

From Newsstand to Appstand

Magazine and newspaper publishers have had a rough decade or two lately, what with all the news going places by way of non-paper-based means. And just putting up a website and selling ads is by no means a solution if what you're really doing is putting together a big, glossy, expensive magazine that nobody's buying because they're busy reading it for free online.

The emerging market of tablets and e-readers may offer another opportunity for salvation, and Amazon's recently done something to push that possibility along a little further. It's more than doubled the cut that publishers get when they sell periodicals through the Kindle store. Now it's 70/30, with the 70 going toward publishers. This revenue split now more closely resembles the one offered by Apple for iPad publications.

Selling digital issues of a publication to e-reader and tablet users is attractive to publishers because it gets readers back into a buying rather than surfing mentality. Instead of poking through a website to read a magazine's articles, a reader can pay a few bucks to download the full issue -- the articles and all the little tidbits in between. It's likely there will still be ads, of course, but at least it won't be the only way for pubs to pay the rent. Best part of all: no little subscription postcards falling into your lap when you turn the page.

There's still a lot of trial and error down the road for digital issues, though. Formatting for both landscape and portrait views can be a pain -- just ask Sports Illustrated. And unless Amazon comes out with a color e-reader soon, magazines are going to look kind of bland on the Kindle. Then there's the question of what happens to free Web content if digital issues eventually catch on. It's unlikely publishers will want to put their top-shelf content on the open Web when so many readers could be paying for it through the tablets that we'll all be theoretically toting around in five years. Digital editions could be one more way in which the Internet de-Webifies, with a greater amount of content siloed away into a growing world of apps.

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