Ice Cream Sandwich won't save Android tablets

Ice Cream Sandwich
Android 4 will do big numbers - on smartphones

Have you had the chance to look at Ice Cream Sandwich, aka Android 4.0, yet? It looks lovely, and boasts a wealth of new features.

The camera app has been massively improved, the smartphone UI is much better, speech recognition has been beefed up and Android Beam looks pretty nifty.

Best of all, the idea of unlocking your phone with your face - with your FACE! - makes me giggle like a child.

There are the usual issues - HTC's being vague about whether it will upgrade everything; the Ice Cream Sandwich-toting Nexus S will cost Apple money in the UK - but I reckon it's safe to make a couple of predictions here.

One, Android 4.0 smartphones will fly off the shelves.

And two, Android 4.0 tablets won't.

Different strokes

Do you know how many Android tablets were sold worldwide in the last twelve months? Three. I know what you're thinking: three? Didn't manufacturers ship hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of tablets? And you're right - but shipped doesn't mean sold.

OK, it was a bit more than three. But by every conceivable metric - units sold, browser market share, app sales - the tablet market is still largely the iPad market. Apple sells more tablets in a quarter than Android firms have collectively managed to date. That's going to change very soon, but I don't think Ice Cream Sandwich will be the catalyst: it'll be the Kindle Fire.

Android is a runaway success on smartphones, and deservedly so, but it's struggled on tablets. While Apple shifts tens of millions of tablets - during last night's earnings announcement, CEO Tim Cook explained that Apple thinks the tablet business may be bigger than the PC business - Android firms aren't doing big numbers, and Honeycomb hasn't significantly changed that. Slashgear estimatesthat 3.4 million certified Android tablets have been sold worldwide. Apple does that in a month.

There's more to this than Apple's hype machine. iPads sell on the basis of what you can do; Android ones are sold on the basis of what they are.

As long as that's the case, as long as the message is "this one's got a ZomboMegaProcessor with eleventy-two cores!" and not "Look at all the cool stuff you can do!", as long as Android tablets' media, games and app choices are so much smaller than Apple's and Amazon's, Android tablets will remain a tough sell for the mass market.

Even though you can unlock them with your face.


Liked this? Then check out Why Android's fight for survival is just beginning

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.