One of the most entertaining aspects of studying the Android ecosystem is the fact there is just so much of it. It is overwhelming, especially for consumers that do not know what smartphone or tablet they are supposed to buy because a new device is released every other day.
Samsung is the largest culprit of the flood of Android devices to inundate the flood plains of the mobile coastline. Just look at its Galaxy Tab line of tablets. None have performed well on the market. Unlike smartphones, the "be everything to everybody" approach does not work in the tablet market. There is a reason that Apple's iPad and Amazon's Kindle Fire are eating Samsung's tablet lunch.
In recent weeks we have noted that the largesse of Samsung puts great pressure on the rest of the mobile ecosystem. There is a reason that Apple is suing it in courts across the world. Samsung plays by the mobile operators rules and makes different smartphones per the carriers' requirements. It is a system that works very well for smartphones but so far has not garnered much traction for the Galaxy Tab line of devices.
Samsung has several tablets on the market in a variety of sizes. There is the flagship Tab 10.1, the middling Tab 8.9, the Tab 7.7 and the Tab 7 Plus. Samsung also has a tweener, the Galaxy Note at 5.3 inches that it touts with the S Pen input method. Why do none of these seemingly quality devices succeed?
For a clue, look to Apple. On the company's quarterly earnings call yesterday, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that the iPad, "is in a class by itself." Apple does not worry about competition and with the kind of money that is pouring into the company, it can say that with a straight face. Apple made $9.1 billion off of iPad sales in its Q1 earnings. CEO Tim Cook said that he has looked at sales patterns and believes that Android tablets (notably addressing the Amazon Kindle Fire) have not affected iPad sales in the slightest.
The Kindle Fire may be irrelevant to the iPad, but it is not, cannot be, irrelevant to Samsung. For that matter, Motorola, HTC and LG were also put on notice. Amazon swooped in to the Android tablet space and immediately took No. 1 billing. It did so with a favorable price point, favorable marketing and the might of the Amazon e-commerce platform behind it. Samsung also has trouble competing with Amazon on price by trying to power up the components in its tablets. In Samsung's mind, the real competitor is Apple. Actual sales say that Amazon should be considered the primary threat.
The Kindle Fire is a limited device. It has little in the ways of device access and needs third-party solutions to implement things like location. It is a consumer tablet made to give users the means to consume content. Samsung does not believe in this simplistic approach.
In an interview with LAPTOP Magazine, Samsung product marketing manager Ryan Bidan expressed his thoughts on the Fire.
"We're entering the market from a different place. So where those devices have kind of led with content consumption, we've led with the fully functional kind of multifunction tablet story. What I see happening is consumers wanting to do more with those lower-end tablets, and then there will be even more reason to switch up to Samsung," Bidan said.
A "multifunction" tablet is a great thing. The iPad is a revelation in the type of computing it delivers in its form factor. With Ice Cream Sandwich and apps that are being built for Android tablets, the Samsung Tab series does not lack for functionality either. It may not be an iPad, but the Tab series are fine devices in their own right.
Where Samsung has missed the boat that has driven the iPad and Kindle Fire to popularity is the idea of the "can't miss" tablet. How can you promote a "can't miss" tablet when you have five of them? When Samsung unveiled the Tab 8.9 at CTIA in Orlando last spring, it produced a series of video about how users would gravitate to one of the company's many tablet form factors. Sitting in the audience at the time, I thought, "well, this is probably a good idea." At the time I likened Samsung's tablet line to the Galaxy smartphone line and thought it would probably work.
The Kindle Fire is a "can't miss" tablet. Well, that is what Amazon managed to convince consumers. Whether that is actually true is a matter of interpretation.
That is not what has happened. Samsung has spread itself thin and the marketing message that goes along with it. The company should take a play out of Amazon and Apple's book and make one tablet and market the hell out of it like the company has with its hilarious line of commercials touting the Galaxy S II smartphone.
It is nice to be everyone's everything. Apple has done that with one device. If Samsung looks at it more critically, it will realize that it can probably do the same thing with one or two.