Enough with the identical Honeycomb tablets!

Since the announcement of the Xoom, both our and other sites’ articles have gone from a general tone like “look at this awesome tablet” to “yet another one of those damned things”. It’s getting to the point where it’s beyond ridiculous, and it has to stop.

Here’s a set of specs for a tablet:

  • 10.1″ 1280×800 capacitive multitouch IPS display
  • Tegra 2 dual core 1Ghz CPU
  • 8 hour battery life
  • Android 3.0 Honeycomb
  • MicroSD slot
  • Front and back camera, HD video recording

Now, here’s the big question? Can anyone identify what tablet this is? The answer is that you can’t, because this describes a number of Android tablets currently out or on their way. They’re so identical that minor cosmetic differences are all that remain to seperate them from another- that and the price.

So why is this bad, you might ask- can’t they just do what they want? No. Stagnating markets is not beneficial to anyone, least of all the manufacturers. If there’s nothing whatsoever that separates a product from another, it all becomes a price and availability war. The Xoom and the A500 are now both victims of the Asus EEE Transformer which is practically identical but has a lower price tag of $400 compared to $600 and$450 respectively (not to mention it has that keyboard dock). While people will buy all three products out of pure stupidity and lack of research (which is essentially the same things), anyone who actually looks the products up before making a decision will go with the Transformer. Normally there will be some sort of tiny detail that might make them at least a little bit different, but aside from bundled software and custom UIs (something that Google is not trying to reduce due to causing OS fragmentation and slow software updates) there is nothing.

It’s also not all that beneficial for customers. Yes, it will pull down prices, but then again it might be worth an extra $50 bucks to make sure the company producing the thing makes enough money on it that it will prioritize software updates and support. You also don’t really get any more choices of tablets just because more models are out, as they’re all identical. At this point it’s basically iPad vs Honeycomb, not iPad vs Transformer vs Xoom. Then you have accessories, which suffer greatly from all these identical devices. While the basic size and all the internal parts (software included) is identical, there are enough differences on the outside that a case won’t be universal. Developing a case costs money, so more internally identical devices means less customers per device and less cases sold per case made. You can find dozens upon dozens of iPad cases because the market is huge, but you can find way fewer cases for Android tablets- and that ratio is not going to change. Luckily, most other accessories these days are universal (e.g styli).

Of course there are tablets that stand out, and that serve as examples of how you can differentiate a product without making it serve cold beverages from the USB slot. The Transformer is a brilliant example with its keyboard dock. From a technical point of view, that dock is 1990’s technology. It has a battery, keyboard and a few USB ports plus wires going to a connector for the tablet. The tablet itself is all 2011, identical to the Xoom and all that, but with the addition of an accessory that anyone with a soldering iron could have put together a prototype of they made the thing stand out from the crowd. Notion Ink’s Adam stands out because of the screen (and a few other things), T-Mobile’s G-Slate stands out because of a 3D camera, and Lenovo’s upcoming tablet is sure to be a hit because of the pen functionality.

Point being, you don’t have to invent Warp drive to make a tablet stand out. Slap a second microSDHC reader on the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and I’m sure you have a dedicated following packed with 32GB memory cards in no time, all willing to pledge their allegiance to the company that didn’t limit their storage capacity. How about spending $20 more for a better camera on a tablet, and stand out that way? Or make a tablet that is slightly heavier but has much better battery life than the other. Integrate an HDMI port (rather than mini-HDMI) and include an IR remote control, and you’ll have something to brag about for $10 worth of parts. It really isn’t that difficult to find a way to make a product just a little bit different than the competition, and yet we have tablets that are so alike it’s as though they’ve planned it all along.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.