The Samsung Galaxy Tab–officially unveiled at the IFA show in Berlin this week–looks like the first tablet worthy of challenging the Apple iPad. However, there are still some obstacles and unknowns that could get in the way of the success of Samsung’s Android tablet.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab looks impressive both on paper, and in initial hands-on reviews. The Galaxy Tab has most–if not all–of the features that many wanted to see on the Apple iPad like front and rear-facing cameras, expandable memory through an SD memory card slot, and a multitasking OS. That said, there are a couple intangibles which could still make the Galaxy Tab fizzle.
One of the primary factors contributing to the skyrocketing success of Android as a mobile platform is that it is available on a variety of smartphones, built by a variety of manufacturers, and offered through a variety of wireless providers. A diverse array of smartphone options available from every major wireless carrier offers a significantly larger pool of users to pull from than targeting one wireless carrier with one smartphone as Apple does with the iPhone–at least in the US.
That diversity can cut both ways, though. Developers working on iOS apps know that the app will be used on an iPhone (or iPod Touch), or on an iPad. They know up front what the display dimensions and resolution will be, and they can optimize the apps accordingly. Android development is more complex due to the variety of Android smartphone hardware.
To be fair, the concept of variable screen size and resolution is not new. As the Android Guys pointed out earlier this year, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux developers have been plagued by the same issue for decades, yet manage to create applications capable of adjusting on the fly to fit the limitations of a given display just fine.
But, that is only the case if developers make it so. Apps that are written with a smartphone in mind may not transition well to a tablet-sized display. iPhone apps will technically work on an iPad, but the app only occupies an iPhone-sized rectangle in the middle of the display and it doesn’t re-orient if you rotate the iPad. You can enlarge it to fit the iPad display, but the result is a fuzzy, pixelated version of the iPhone app. Some Android apps could face similar handicaps, complicated further by the various sizes of Android tablets that will be on the market.
The other challenges that could hinder the success of the Samsung Galaxy Tab will be cost and contracts. Yes, the tablet looks worthy of competing with the iPad, but will users line up to buy it if it costs the same or more than the Apple iPad? Samsung may be able to sell its Android tablet, but perhaps not without undercutting the iPad price.
One way Samsung can bring the price down is through wireless carrier subsidies. Rumor has it that Verizon will offer the Galaxy Tab when it comes to the US (although there is also a rumor that Samsung may use all major wireless providers as it does with the Galaxy S series smartphones). However, those subsidies usually come with contracts and early termination fees that iPad users don’t have to deal with.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab appears formidable enough, but it–and the slew of Android tablets that will follow–will have to overcome these challenges to offer any serious competition for the iPad.