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Open thread: in search of the perfect tablet

What makes the perfect tablet? We take a look at the best devices and market trends to try and narrow down what consumers really want from their tablets.

Published onMay 1, 2014

The tablet market is huge business these days, with 61.42 million of them shipping out around the globe in the second quarter of this year alone. Shipments are up 4.9 percent on the previous quarter, 30.9 percent higher than the previous year, and there’s a huge array of models with varying sizes, materials, and hardware specs. So what, if anything, constitutes the perfect tablet? What’s driving all this demand?

Turning to who’s buying what, the situation looks surprisingly similar to the smartphone market, with Apple and Samsung both leading the pack by quite a margin. In the second quarter, Apple is looking to ship 13.5 million tablets, Samsung will ship around 12.2 million, followed by ASUS and Lenovo moving approximately 3.8 million each.

High-end hardware vs cheap Android imports

While brand recognition is sure to play a huge part here, data collected by DigiTimes Research suggests that consumers are mostly interested in premium, high-spec products, rather than basing their decision on price alone. Budget oriented manufacturers still make up a notable portion of the market, which certainly makes Android a more attractive platform across a wide range of markets. When it comes to unit shipments, high-end products are still dominated by the two big name brands, Samsung and Apple, followed by ASUS, which builds the popular Nexus tablet.

Tablet Shipments Q2 2014
The premium iPad and Galaxy Tab names account for the vast majority of sales, with the Nexus range and cheaper brands making up the smaller portion of the market.

Looking at the market leaders, the iPad and Galaxy Tab series may share similar aesthetic designs, but they’re also very comparable in terms of hardware.  The new Tab Pro range features an impressive 2560 x 1600 display, which is slightly superior to the iPad’s 2048 x1536 resolution. They also both feature high performance processors, with build quality being top notch on both sides.

Best Android Tablet Samsung Galaxy TabPro 8.4 CES 2014 Android Authority-3
The Galaxy TabPro 8.4 won our Best Android Tablet award at this year’s CES.

Of course there are many other manufacturers making high-end tablets, such as Sony’s Xperia Tablet range. But despite the range of 1080p high performance tablets on the market, the little extra touches offered by Apple and Samsung seem to be keeping them one step ahead, at least for now.

Cast your mind back to the start of the tablet revolution; Apple had a massive head start and was the only manufacturer in the premium tablet game. These days, the situation looks quite different.

Tablet OS Market Share Q2 2014

Android doesn’t have any real competition in the budget price bracket and the OS’ market share in this category is as stable as ever, which suggests that the recent market swing in favour of Android is being led by something else. The only conclusion I can draw is that consumers are starting to take high-end Android tablets seriously, which is cutting into Apple’s biggest unique selling proposition. The Nexus range has done wonders for Android in the high/mid-tier category, too.

The desire for high performance tablets isn’t so surprising when we consider the huge market shift from laptops and PCs over to tablets that has taken place over the last few years. With tablets replacing home computers as people’s primary method for accessing online content, it’s not surprising that we’re looking for tablets capable of storing and playing back high quality movies and blazing through the web.

Software remains a divisive issue

Hardware is just half of the experience, there’s also the software side to consider. Android has struggled with dedicated tablet apps in the past, but things have been steadily improving. Google has been keen to push developers to use the master/detail flow interface type for new apps, and the Play Store allows users to filter out apps which are not designed for proper use with tablets.

Nexus 7
Nexus tablets are unbeatable for the price, but do they fulfill the premium experience that many consumers demand from their tablets?

We recently took at a look at some of the differences between Android and iOS apps, and credit where it’s due, iOS certainly provides a compelling and cohesive user experience. On the Android side of things, Google Play’s media and productivity apps have helped to build a solid feature base, and KitKat is a much more feature rich OS platform than the old Honeycomb fragment.

Then there are OEM variations on the formula. Samsung seems to be trying to address some of Android’s shortcomings with its own apps and widgets found in its own products, see Magazine UX. Although not perfect, Samsung’s latest tablet software is a more dedicated tablet experience than cheaper stock Android devices. LG also has its own software features on its G Pad tablet, Slide Aside gestures give the product an edge over stock Android when it comes to multitasking.

Latest tablet videos

Given the range of software options, it’s much harder to define software perfection, but consumers are clearly being won over by more dedicated tablet experiences than Android is capable on its own. That being said, preference really boils down to platform specific ecosystems and features, each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Size matters

Even if you’ve found a tablet which suits all your software and hardware needs, the final big question remains – what size tablet do I want?

Looking at the shipment data for Q2 2014, there’s still a wide range of popular tablet sizes, with a slight preference towards tablets around 7 to 8 inches. The upper limit is around 10 inches, with only a tiny market share given to 11 inch or greater tablets. Personally, I’d say a screen size of around 8 inches is the sweet spot for portability vs viewing experience, which mostly conforms to the data, but there’s a large group of consumers which have a preference for larger displays.

Tablet Sizes Q2 2014

For the media centric consumer, bigger displays certainly have their appeal. If you take portability out of the equation, say if a user was only going to use the tablet at home as their main device, then a larger display would make a lot of sense for browsing, watching, and reading content.

Going back to the big two – Samsung and Apple -and both seem to have noticed this trend, as each company has its own range of high-end products spanning the most popular sizes. Perhaps this is one of the biggest factors of their success.

With this data in mind, the rumored HTC Nexus 8 tablet, which is supposed to completely replace the 7 inch Nexus line-up, seems to fit the bill for the “perfect” tablet. Powered by the most popular tablet OS, with HTC’s premium build quality, and hitting the sweet spot in terms of size, an 8 inch Nexus tablet might just be the tablet that everyone is after.

But enough from me, how about yourselves? Does the broader market reflect your own preferences, and how would you describe your perfect tablet?

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Also, for all you lovers of the most advanced tech out there, JDI has a 10 inch 4k (3840×2160 pixel) display intended for use in 10 inch tablets coming out, and it’s likely that 4K will be the next game changer, if processors and batteries are up to the task. Regardless, it seems that the onus is now on Google to further optimize Android’s UI for improved functioning on the tablet form factor itself.