The Strange Case of the Phantom Tablets

August 2nd, 2013

So the story goes that the iPad became number one out of the starting gate, but that Android tablets have been fast encroaching on Apple’s space. Of course, we have peculiar ways of demonstrating such a fact, if that’s what it is. So we have the curious case of Google citing a study that indicated that the original Nexus 7 tablet outsold the iPad in Japan last year. However, that survey conveniently omitted many of the most significant sources of Apple sales, such as the Apple Store, Apple’s online storefront, and some carriers.

When the real facts came out, the iPad outsold the Nexus 7 by a huge margin, but don’t expect Google to make any such admission. These days, they are pushing a refreshed version, with a high definition or retina-like screen, for $30 more than the original. Despite having shorter battery life, it hasn’t stopped some tech pundits from having orgasms over the latest and greatest alleged iPad killer. They seem to forget the shortcomings of Google’s tablet-optimized apps, and the limitations of a 7-inch widescreen display compared to the standard aspect radio 7.9-inch iPad mini.

All right, the new Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle HD both offer higher screen resolutions than the iPad, and, if you see them side by side, you won’t miss the difference. But it’s clear people still love their iPads.

Now this week, we have yet another survey indicating that more Android tablets are sold than iPads. The source, Canays estimates, covered the June 2013 quarter and concludes that Apple has 42.7% of the market, which is a lot less than last year’s 71.2% share. But there are problems with such surveys, the least of which is that key manufacturers, such as Amazon and Samsung, don’t actually break out real sales figures for their tablets, so it involves a whole lot of guesswork. There’s also a sizable “Others” category, nearly as high as Samsung’s. Did I say “Other”? What, pray tell, can they be? Well, a few hundred thousand are probably Microsoft Surface tablets. The rest? Well, do they even exist?

The real problem with such figures is that the iPad accounts for 84% of tablet-based Web traffic according to recent surveys. That’s a figure Apple’s Tim Cook has cited over the past few months, since it hasn’t changed a whole lot, except that Apple might be getting a slightly greater share.

But if Android tablets have the majority of the market, who is buying them, and for what purpose are they being used? Well, an Amazon Kindle, which runs an ancient version of Android, is heavily used to consume content from Amazon, such as e-books and movies, not to mention browsing and purchasing stuff from the company’s expansive storefronts. Since the Kindle has, at best, a rudimentary browser, it’s not at all likely that many users are just surfing.

Certainly, Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones have perfectly capable browsers, and they register in the major online surveys. But what about all those tablets Samsung allegedly sold this past quarter? Is it possible most people just took them, played with them a few moments, then tossed them back into their shipping containers and set them aside? I would presume the browsing experience on a Samsung tablet, assuming the app is properly optimized for a tablet, is at least decent. Google has one of the most popular browsers on the planet.

In addition to email and messaging, you expect that most people who buy a tablet are visiting their favorite sites. So what’s really going on here? Why are so few people using those tablets to surf the net? Is there some hidden defect in an Android tablet that stops people from using them on the Internet?

Or is it just possible that all these stellar sales figures are fake? Should we just blame the companies who do those surveys, who pore over company profit and loss statements in search of the hidden information on the actual sales of specific models, or survey selected dealers and make “educated” guesses? Or is it possible that Samsung and other tech companies are scamming the industry by shipping loads of gear into the channel without the expectation that they will be sold any time soon?

I wouldn’t presume to guess the correct answer, but it is damn suspicious. If we accept the figures released by industry analysts as even vaguely accurate, we are left with a raft of defective products that people just don’t even want to use. Even if Android tablets are selling more than the iPad these days, that doesn’t mean they deliver a better experience, or even an equal one. It’s quite possible many of these tablets are just cheap junk, sold at extremely low prices in developing countries, to people who can’t or won’t buy something that actually works.

Regardless of the truth, Apple still makes the lion’s share of tablet profits. All right, we have that questionable claim that Samsung’s handset profits are somewhat higher than Apple’s, but some of us have already analyzed those fudged figures and found them dead wrong. I won’t repeat that report here.

As to those phantom Android tablets, speaking as a sci-fi writer, maybe the people who own them are surfing an Internet in another dimension, so the online traffic doesn’t register here on Earth. If you can believe that, I can get you a great deal on a certain bridge from Brooklyn, NY.

| Print This Article Print This Article

3 Responses to “The Strange Case of the Phantom Tablets”

  1. Ted Schroeder says:

    The real propaganda problem for the Android/Google/Samsung crowd is the ‘84% of tablet-based Web traffic’ figure. They can fake sales with shipped v. sold fudges, they can make up “White Box” numbers or “Others”, but pretty everybody and anybody who’s interested can look at the numbers for Web traffic. It’s impossible for any company’s marketing department or analysts-for-hire to cook the books when so many people have access to their own stats.

    While I can appreciate the old saying from baseball, “if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying” – business ain’t baseball.

    While good commercials -or even lots of bad commercials- may buy a company some attention from the public or buzz from the press, in the long run, satisfying customers is a surer path to profits than a seemingly endless river of b.s.

    And, though it’s been said before, the sales numbers -true or false- don’t really pay the bills for Google. They want the eyeballs. So even if the sales are close to true, the tablet-based Web numbers indicate that they still need Apple.

    And if I were Eric Schmidt, I trust Tim Cook a lot more than I’d trust anybody at Samsung.

    ps- John Martellaro’s got a pretty good column on the whole Apple/Android perception of value thing at:

  2. robyn says:

    Great column and solid comment!

    What’s additionally disturbing is that when the savvy, critical analysts show what’s wrong with the pro-Android sales reports, the very venues that so highlighted them do NOT seem to equally spread the word that the reports were seriously in error.

    Plus, given that we’ve know for several years that this is going on, the tech web sites who simply regurgitate the flawed studies should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. Viswakarma says:

    May I suggest using a “Spider Chart” to show the multi-dimensional value propositions of products fro Apple vs other purveyors of Tablets/Phablets/SmartPhones etc.?

Leave Your Comment