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The Media May Be Figuring Out the Shortcomings of those Killer Products

There’s a report this week in Fortune that reveals something most of you have realized by now. Just because a competing product is announced, that doesn’t prove that product is any good, or has sales potential.

So, of all those headlines about the coming onslaught of iPad killers, few offer a responsible analysis of the situation. The prevailing meme is that the existence of another tablet-based computer must be evidence that the manufactuer is about to succeed big time, and Apple is fated to be the loser.

That’s the same sort of illogical mental process that followed the announcement of all those iPod killers in the early days. One product after another came out, and they all failed. Even Microsoft, which tried to emulate Apple’s walled garden approach, at the expense of all those PlaysForSure partners, got slammed.

Nowadays, new digital media players, even the Microsoft Zune, don’t merit much attention. You only know that the market is aging, and Apple’s sales are undergoing a long, slow decline, even though the iPod’s market share remains pretty stable.

History may repeat itself with the iPad. There have been a number of product announcements, but only one is evidently available. Worse, the mobile OS for these tablets, based on Google’s Android or Chrome, has yet to be optimized for such products.

That hasn’t halted the rush to ship something, anything, which can go up against the iPad. In keeping with the “look before you leap” approach, the marketing strategies behind these “Pad” gadgets are questionable. We have Samsung wanting to tie you into a data contract with a wireless carrier to bring the price down to a sensible level, about $300. Without a contract, the Galaxy Tab, which seems a decent enough product, may cost as much as $1,000 for a device with a 7-inch screen.

Nobody sees anything wrong with that picture?

At least with Android-powered smartphones, the hardware is often quite decent. Google continues to upgrade the OS to deliver better performance and stuff the feature-set. For the most part, owners of these products appear reasonably satisfied with them, although the OS remains rough around the edges.

A big problem with the Google Android infrastructure is one of branding. You have heard of phones with the word “Droid” in them, for example. But that’s as close as it gets. The ads describe the phone, the carrier’s network, and the latest promotion that’ll save you loads of cash up front. All well and good, but only the power users and industry analysts understand they are using the Android OS, and that means something because it’s open source.

At least with “Intel Inside” PCs, you know, from the ads and the labels on the products themselves, that they use parts from Intel. That may or may not mean something, but at least it’s a consistent message. Same thing for the statement that all those PC boxes run Windows. Even if you hate Windows, and are poised to wipe the drive and install Linux as soon as you open the shipping box, once again the branding is consistent. You know what you’re getting, for better or worse.

To make matters worse for the Android universe, there’s no guarantee that you can upgrade your gear to the latest and greatest OS. The interface may be butchered by the manufacturer or carrier, not to mention adding extra apps that promote a carrier’s or carrier partner’s extra-cost products or services.

This doesn’t mean that there can’t be iPad killers. But the manufacturers so far seem to believe that adding extra hardware features, such as front and rear cameras, will somehow clinch the sale. They do not consider that, while a front camera is a perfectly good idea, assuming it can actually be used for videoconferencing, a rear camera seems less sensible. A tablet is rather an award device for taking snapshots. It’s not just a larger smartphone, although I gather some manufactures might not understand the distinction.

In addition to a camera — which is widely expected to arrive in the next iPad — building a thinner, lighter widget might be a good idea, as that, too, would answer a shortcoming in Apple’s existing tablet. Even that advantage, though, may vanish with iPad 2.0.

For now, Google might do well to take advantage of having a fast-growing mobile OS, with the appropriate branding and advertising. I wonder why you’re not seeing loads of image ads touting the advantages of an open source OS, an app marketplace with few restrictions, and support by a large number of manufacturers and carriers.

To me, that ought to provide a number of perceived advantages. In practice, there are clear limitations that I won’t go into here. But at least the people who buy these phones might better understand what they have, and why it would be a smart idea to get more Android OS gear.

Right now, the people who buy Android OS product, other than those who totally hate Apple or AT&T, are likely doing so because of a specific carrier-based promotion and some snazzy advertising that usually doesn’t explain one product’s advantages over another. If Google thinks they have a better OS and app store, they should tell their customers why. Oh, right, you’re not their customer. You’re the customer of the carrier. Google doesn’t matter, so long as they get a bigger audience for their targeted ads.