The Nexus 9 is a venture into new territory for all involved; it is Google Inc.’s first attempt at a premium tablet and manufacturer HTC Corp.’s first tablet in three years. The slate is now on sale and has received a host of positive reviews; overall pundits agree that the Nexus 9 is a solid tablet, but it's no iPad.
While Android as a whole has a lead on Apple Inc. in the tablet market with 62 percent market share in comparison to Apple’s 36 percent, the Android ecosystem is so fragmented by manufacturer that no one tablet maker could beat Apple in sales. Herein lies the issue for Google and HTC in moving forward with the Nexus 9. Likely having anticipated this, the companies priced the Nexus 9 at $399, roughly $100 less than competitors like Apple’s newly launched iPad Air 2 and the premium Galaxy Tab S by Samsung Electronics Co.
But what other than price will get consumers purchasing the Nexus 9 over the iPad Air 2? The tablet market has been in a decline for manufacturers, including Apple, but Apple still has a few tricks up its sleeve that may make consumers looking for a tablet favor the iPad. Here’s what the Nexus 9, and Android tablets in general, would need to compete.
One byproduct of the smartphone market is that it has created a strong sense of brand loyalty among consumers. Buyers are more likely to purchase electronics from manufacturers whose products they already own. Apple in particular has mastered this with a congruency between its devices, so users get the iOS experience whether they are using a smartphone, a tablet or any other Apple device. This solidifies brand loyalty, in that an iPhone user in the market for a tablet will likely choose an iPad before any other brand.
This could be an issue for the HTC-made Nexus 9 since HTC is not known for tablets. The manufacturer’s last tablets launched in 2011, after which it has focused on smartphones, and HTC smartphones are not exactly flying off the shelves. Smartphones like the HTC One (M8) and HTC One (M7) have received rave reviews for build quality and user experience, but consumers still favor more major players like Apple and Samsung. While many Google fans may be interested in the Nexus 9, most HTC fans may not have the same brand connection to the tablet.
A distinct interface
Distinguishing a tablet from a smartphone is one issue that has caused the tablet market to suffer. Many consumers still cannot figure out whether a tablet is a distinct device or just an oversized smartphone. Many tablet makers have done little to establish a difference, Google in particular. The new Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system, which currently runs only on the Nexus 9 and Nexus 6 smartphone, is one of Google’s most advanced iterations; however, it does not address many of the issues with Android on tablets.
Google’s Android operating system was developed to work with both smartphones and tablets; however, it favors smartphones exponentially. Many third-party Android applications are not optimized for tablets, meaning users experience a stretched-out, dull-looking version of a smartphone application.
Meanwhile, Apple has taken note that tablets and smartphones are in fact two different devices and have established differences in its iOS software. Many applications have distinct tablet interfaces and are properly sized for viewing on a tablet.
Quicker and better app development
While Android has always been more open to developer modifications than Apple, the fact that Android supports a variety of different device sizes has been an issue for programmers. As said, many tablet applications end up being stretched-out versions of smartphone applications; this happens because developers find it difficult to cater to the plethora of Android tablet sizes. When creating software, developers tend to have a few devices on which they test, which leaves many others unsupported.
Apple’s iOS software often gets new applications before Android because app development has been much simpler. Many iOS developers say they do not develop for Android because of the difficulty with fragmentation.
However, when Google showcased Android 5.0, then called Android L, at its I/O conference in June, it emphasized that the system included new tools for developers for easier translation onto different screen sizes. With Android 5.0 being so new, and not yet on older Google devices, it remains to be seen how the new software will benefit developers.
Updates to Google Wallet
Google has been working with near field communication (NFC)-based applications long before Apple introduced its Apple Pay service, but Apple Pay has taken off much more quickly than Google Wallet. At this time, Google Wallet is compatible with more NFC systems and at more locations than Apple Pay. Before Apple Pay, many NFC payment users favored Softcard, formerly known as Isis Mobile Wallet.
Google Wallet comes pre-installed on the Nexus 9; however, the application requires a bit more effort to work than Apple Pay, including entering a pin number, and pressing enter. It may not seem very tedious, but Apple Pay simply requires users to press the TouchID now featured on the iPad Air 2 in order to activate a payment.
Apple’s iPad Air 2 introduces its Touch ID fingerprint sensor to tablets when few manufacturers have even attempted the feature on smartphones. This has automatically set the new iPad apart from most tablets. Samsung is one of the few other manufacturers to use a fingerprint sensor on a tablet; its Galaxy Tab S line includes its Finger Sensor feature. This could be seen as a major disadvantage for the Nexus 9, being a premium- marketed tablet without a fingerprint sensor. Or perhaps it won’t be an issue, considering few people actually use any kind of passcode on their devices.
The bottom line is that the Android tablet ecosystem needs a number of improvements before new devices like the Nexus 9 can challenge Apple's stranglehold on the market.