Why Australia’s tablet market is still Apple’s bitch


Delimiter’s Curmudgeon column is contributed by David Braue, who has forgotten about more heavily-hyped gadgets and supposed life-changing technologies than you’ve probably ever seen. His hobbies include long sunset walks along iPhone-lit beaches, setting the proverbial clocks on peoples’ proverbial VCRs, embedding hidden swear words in the Delimiter CMS, and ranting about anything in the tech world that has it coming. Oh, and Scrabble.

opinion Watching the tablet market has been like watching a teen slasher flick: you know they’re all going to end up dead but one, but you still enjoy yelling warnings at the screen and watching the evisceration. So it was following the rapid release and demise of the HP TouchPad, which this week made a beeline for the dustbin of history – and made some greedy punters a bit of pocket change as they ignored the one-per-person limit and snatched up TouchPads by the handful to sell on eBay for more than twice what they paid.

As we have seen over the past month, that’s just how things work in the tablet market. Fresh from a seeming victory that saw it successfully block Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 from sale here and in Europe, Apple’s fortunes turned – theoretically – as the European injunction was summarily lifted and its rivals pounced with patent battles of their own.

Will the cases make much difference? They’ll be great fodder for journalists, but change nothing: in Australia’s tablet market, things are far more black and white: there is the iPad, and there is everybody else. Nobody can make people buy its competitors, and signs are that almost nobody wants to – except at below-cost prices that no vendor wants to touch.

There has been extensive discussion about what HP could have done to make people want its tablet more, and the chaos at Harvey Norman this week showed that a cheap tablet will definitely move. Such a device, built for quality, could cut the legs out from under the iPad by providing a basic device that does most of what people use the iPad for.

That said, a cheap tablet will also devalue the entire market and change consumer expectations so dramatically that nobody will be able to make a quid out of it. Furthermore, no vendor comes into a market aiming to lowball the competition – at least, no vendor that’s capable of producing something as complex as a tablet. I’m sure there are a dozen Chinese clone makers ready to pump out devices that look and act (sort of) the same, but consumers will shun tablets that don’t work as they expect (read: like an iPad).

The thing is: so far, there’s no reason to buy any tablet but an iPad. Fans of diversity – and those who dogmatically oppose the top-down technocracy that is Apple – will hate me for saying it. I know because I used to be one of them: on a trip to Singapore years ago, I went shopping for a portable media player and decided to buy anything but an iPod. I was not, I swore, going to become yet another sheep, a lemming, a cog in the wheel of Apple’s world domination.

Months later, I was back in Australia and my chosen alternative – a no-name brand that looked good in the shops, cost the same as an iPod and boasted a big screen and broader format support but worked about one-fifth as reliably – simply stopped working. I inevitably questioned my determination to think different, and decided that my sanity would suffer less if I simply thought different, but did it Apple’s way.

I’m not alone. In fact, the mobile device market in Australia – even more so than in many other markets – has become, if I may quote Ruslan Kogan, Apple’s bitch. Hoping to tap into an as-yet-untapped vein of anti-Apple sentiment, retailers are dutifully stocking alternatives as one contender after another launches heavily-marketed iPad alternatives – but I don’t get the impression many people are buying them. I was among the hoardes of TouchPad opportunists this week, and I didn’t see anybody even glance at the Xoom, PlayBook and Aconia tablets in the display case. I hate to say it, but Australians – like buyers in other countries  – simply don’t care about them.

Vendors haven’t done themselves any favours. Research In Motion, for example, chose to differentiate its PlayBook by chaining it to BlackBerrys and preventing users from accessing email. Acer hit the mass market with a pretty but overpriced and largely unremarkable tablet  that does approximately half of what the iPad does, for similar money. Optus and Telstra weighed in with stripped-down devices only a mother could love.

Samsung proudly crowed that it had sold more than 2 million of its Galaxy Tab, but that was more than half a year ago and there have been no updates since – most likely because it has not reached the 3 million mark yet. Even Motorola’s Xoom, whose most redeeming quality is the fact that people don’t flat-out hate it, is perhaps most notable for its blandness and post-launch price cut. Vodafone Australia was so excited about the Xoom that it decided months ago not to carry the device, opting instead to wait for the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (a decision that now has it waiting for Godot). US carrier Sprint Nextel recently killed plans to sell the PlayBook 4G citing lack of customer interest in anything other than iPads, and the Wall Street Journal recently reported that iPad competitors (and not just the TouchPad) are piling up in warehouses, unsold.

Australians don’t want rival tablets. They want cheap tablets, or they want an iPad. There is simply no in-between, and despite their moral assertions that they have value in the market, companies other than Apple are blowing it, time and time again.

It’s in the fingers
The only way to beat the iPad is to release a better, more desirable product – or one that’s far cheaper. For reasons I’ve already mentioned, the latter is unlikely to happen for a while – so I’d suggest Apple’s competitors could start working on that first point by letting their fingers do the walking.

No, not those two fingers. I’m talking about my two index fingers – which, since the beginning of (Apple) time have been able to take a screenshot of whatever’s on my iPhone or iPad screen simply by simultaneously pressing the power, then home buttons.

This seemingly basic feature has been around forever in the Apple world and – if your household is anything like mine – is used with frightening regularity. It’s used to record high scores of games, screenshots necessary for my professional work, map directions to be emailed as an image to someone that needs to find something. I have used the screen-capture function as an impromptu quick-and-dirty method for cropping photos to suit the iPhone’s screen, a way to capture and share an important email, to clip interesting online stories for later reference, and more.

It’s telling that the first major competitor to the iPhone, Google’s Android, forewent the screen-capture capability altogether; Google figured screen capturing was something only developers would want to do. To this day, Android screen captures either require you to root your phone and install a third-party application, or tether your device to your computer and do a few tricks that will leave the average smartphone-using sop bawling with frustration.

One how-to guide I found offers “a quick tip” for those who haven’t rooted their phones and want to take screenshots. First, you download Google’s Android SDK, see? Then you set it up, plug in your phone, run the ddms tool, select your device, start up your phone, set up the image you want to grab, and hit ‘refresh’.

Dear Google: are you effing well kidding me?

Tell your average smartphone user to do this with their tablet, and they’re going to hit you over the head with it. Average, ordinary consumers may understand why they would want to capture images of their screen, but if you tell them they have to go home, plug in their phone, enter debugging mode, then tell their device to say “cheese” while they mirror its screen in a screen emulator, well, it’s not going to happen. It’s stupid, autocratic, and fundamentally unnecessary. Nobody plugs their smartphone into their laptop in the hopes of getting a high score on Angry Birds that they might want to show their mates.

That it took four years before an Apple competitor finally thought to include similar functionality – Research In Motion built it into its PlayBook, and HP copied Apple’s two-fingered gesture in its new TouchPad but had other problems – shows how utterly out of touch the industry has been. Even in its Honeycomb release, Android still requires developer mode, or a rooted phone or tablet, to take screenshots.

Google is so determined to make Android work on its terms – and “its terms” here means “in a way that makes sense to its geekerati workforce” – that it’s forgetting the things that made the iPad so popular. Instead, Google is making its tablets into bigger versions of its phones, which have been a runaway success.

This is a fatal mistake: phones have value for everyday consumers even if they don’t load apps onto them, because they are still very good phones. But tablets live and die by their apps and their user experience – and so far no vendor has come close to Apple on either count.

Apple may lock down that user experience, but most people simply don’t mind because there’s usually a way to do the things you want to do. Making this easy and intuitive is something Apple figured out a long time ago, and its competitors are showing nothing so well as their complete inability to learn a basic truth of fighting Apple: you can’t stop a crazed, psychotic killer with a banana – unless you hammer it down his throat.

Prove me wrong. Tell me what you’ve seen in the current batch of iPad competitors that makes them worth purchasing instead.

Image credit: Stanisław Wyspiański (public domain), David Braue


  1. Having played with a bunch of different Android/BlackBerry/WebOS tablets recently I came to the conclusion that I was still going to buy an iPad — and two weeks ago I did. I just don’t think the competition is up to scratch at the moment — and when the price is the same, why would you go for something with inferior quality?

    What the HP queues teach us this week is that price can have a big impact on choice. I think a lot of the people who bought TouchPads already had an iPad and wanted a second tablet — but didn’t want to pay $500 for it.

  2. the screen capture option on Android is incorrect option available on ASUS Transformer although I would hardly call it a deal breaker and as an owner of 3 Android devices I would argue that the competition is as robust as what apple offer , yes the pricing may be off but oh not to be a sheep

  3. the screen capture option on Android is incorrect option available on ASUS Transformer although I would hardly call it a deal breaker and as an owner of 3 Android devices I would argue that the competition is as robust as what apple offer , yes the pricing may be off but oh not to be a sheep

  4. Proper file system access alone is worth ditching that overhyped toy that is the iPad. Being able to view 100% of the web and not just 60% would also be a good example. Expandable memory comes to mind as well. Widescreen display, higher screen resolution, better cameras, GPS with the WIFI only models, proper multitasking, the ability to use all phone apps available without having to replace them with tablet specific ones thanks to proper scalability since android 3.2. Is that enough or do you need more?

    • And yet the iPad continues to outsell them all. This is my point: you can quote specs until you’re blue in the face but in the end people want a product that just works. Trying to beat the iPad by adding more and more features just won’t cut it unless rivals can deliver the kind of integrated experience that only Apple has been able to deliver. And by “integrated experience” I’m talking about buying music, videos, TV shows with one click; auto syncing and management of photos; smooth performance; broad app support; and so on.

      You talk about expandable memory but when was the last time you actually expanded the memory on your tablet? Also, FWIW iPhone apps scale fine to iPad.

      But this isn’t the point. I go to a lot of industry conferences and I have never seen a tablet other than the iPad offered as a prize. I’m not saying that the iPad is inherently BETTER in every way – just that it’s better at delivering what people are willing to pay for. The implosion of the TouchPad, Xoom, etc al are great examples.

      • Your question was asking for reasons to look at alternatives and the specs are an excellent choice to start with. Popularity does not a good product make. The Xfactor is immensely popular but the musicians they produce are hardly the pinnacle of music now, are they? Integrated experience? sure, android has some catching up to do, but when it does over the next year or so you will have a better choice of retailers, media and more importantly prices than just being stuck with itunes. Auto syncing is already well established, but with the added bonus of giving you flexibility in what you sync, as well as working both ways to multiple sources and accounts, unlike itunes.
        Expandable memory? I have several 16GB cards that I swap regularly with my Transformer. A task that is considerably faster than using syncing.
        So your argment boils down to – Ipads are offered as prizes, so that makes them the best? And that has nothing to do with some marketing purchaser simply choosing the shiniest toy from the most recognizable name to draw attention to the draw? Wow, that clearly makes the iPad the bestest ever. Clearly, the explosion of the Asus transformer and Galaxy 10.1 show than nobody wants anything but iPad.
        It might be time for you to step out of apple’s reality distortion field for a bit.

        • Hoggleboggle, as much as I dislike Apple, I have to agree with Curmudgeon in that, for everything the Android tablets have, the fact is this – the iPad is popular for a reason, and not all of it can be attributed to fanboys and clever marketing.. it ‘just works’.

          I use an Android phone that I love, and despise Apple with a vengeance, but even I considered buying an iPad just because ‘it worked’.. the best analogy I can make is that to most people, Android feels very Linux-ish and a little ‘rough’, with iOS here being Windows (lol, never though I’d say that)… despite all its flaws, it does what its meant to do, and you don’t have to be incredibly clever to use one, in fact you can be an idiot and still use it.. (and most people fall into this group)

          I sincerely hope Android tablets catch up, because they have definite promise, but the only I see this happening is if they offer them at a much cheaper rate…

  5. My Brand New Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a Screenshot function and thats without rooting it…do your research before you rant about how much of a Apple iFan you are……why would you buy anything Apple when Android is already selling more than iPhone…..(50 million in a quarter to around 20 million????????????)

    Apple releases a tweaked version every year that can be simply topped within a couple of months given there are a LOT of Android phone producers.

    So Apple can sling their weight about at a conference once a year but then HTC can simply walk after them on stage and say “Yeah, we’ll be doing that as well as the stuff we’ve been doing.” And there’s nothing Apple can do until next year. I also hate the way Apple trickle features rather than provide a decent product in the first place in an attempt to stay news worthy. It took two generations of iPhone to get video recording? Four generations to get sort-of-multitasking? And five generations to get a fucking notifications tray people are buzzing about for some reason? And all of this so they can increase system spec and deem older generations to be incompatible!

    Google stealing or borrowing ideas… Isn’t that like the kettle calling the pot black.

    Apple copied the iPod from Kane Kramer, copied the MacOS “dock” from Acorn computers, Was sued by Burst.com and settled for the technology used in the iPod and iTunes, copied the iPhone from LG Prada, NeoNode, and Samsung F700, copied parts of iOS (like swipe to unlock etc) from NeoNode, Sued by Nokia and settled for patents related to GSM and UMTS standards as well as 802.11 WiFi technologies, Sued by Cisco and settled for using the “iPhone” name, copied the Finder icon from a Picasso painting titled “Two Characters”, copied the App Store from Jailbreak/Cydia, Sued by Personal Audio and lost for patents related to playlist implementation on the iPod. Personal Audio was awarded $8 million. Was sued by Mirror Worlds and lost for patents related to Cover Flow, Time Machine, and Spotlight features found in Mac OS X and iOS. Apple was ordered to pay $625.5 million to Mirror Worlds. And copied Android features that include Notifications, Wireless syncing, Tabbed browsing, New split keyboard, Open apps from the lock screen, and Over the air updates.

    • That’s interesting (screen shots) as the research I did do suggested Honeycomb doesn’t have this function built in. Could you please elaborate on the word “function”? What buttons to you press to take a screenshot? Or is it an app you must run first? Since we can’t get the GT10.1 in Australia I can’t speak to it firsthand.

      I addressed the Android phone issue in the piece: just because Android has been a successful phone OS does not mean it will necessarily dominate the tablet market too. One of the reasons Android has done well is because carriers have promoted it alongside the iPhone because they want to provide customers with options – but tablets don’t have the carriers to spruik their cause, and therefore don’t have the natural inbuilt distribution channels that the iPhone rivals had.

      Android tablets will have to sink or swim on their own momentum and right now, outside the tech sphere, I’d say most people don’t even know about the pros and cons of non-iPads. They just know they’re not iPads.

      As for innovation: “copied the App Store from Jailbreak/Cydia”? There are unresolvable anachronisms in that statement but the point is that people in the real world don’t care about innovation, or copying, or getting all bristly about philosophical issues. They care about who provides the best overall experience.

      In the end, there’s simply no accounting for taste. How do you otherwise explain that Transformers 3, a movie that tries to give emotive weight to fighting robots – fighting robots – has made one billion dollars and counting?

      • On my asus Transformer, you go to settings and tick: “Allow to take screenshots”

        Then you hold the app-switch icon on the task bar, and it takes a screenshot.

  6. Apple’s actions in this matter is exactly the reason why I refuse to buy anything to do with Apple.

    Tell me – if Microsoft tried to do this would you be defending their business practices? Would you be saying they’re the best and the competition just sucks?

    I find it interesting that this articled did not once mention the fact that Apple began its premise on the fact it was fighting the “overbearing man” in Microsoft which did not allow you any freedom.

    Oh look – that is EXACTLY what Apple has become and people like you – David and Renai – consistently fail to call out Apple on this.

    You defend the fact that they go out of their way to kill the competition. How are other companies meant to succeed when Apple does its best to be the ultimate hypocrite?

    I would love to have a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my hands right now but I can’t because Apple won’t let me.

    Apple is a closed system which breeds nothing but elitists and, what I like to call, “Apple fanboism” – i.e. the pure and utter failure to criticise anything that Apple does. Apple wants you to do everything Apple’s way and it will sue the pants off you if you try to do anything different.

    And you are defending this? Where is the massive article that criticises this?

    Oddly enough – Microsoft has now produced much more open and compatible systems than Apple could ever dream of doing.

    As journalists – David and Renai – you’ve lost the respect I’ve had for you guys. I’ll wait to see if you can get it back.

    • Get a grip. The Tab 10.1 is a blatant rip of the iPad. Any company that didn’t pursue that kind of thing wouldn’t be a company for very long.

      Yes, the iOS is a closed ecosystem that ‘just works’ and that’s exactly why its so popular. Android is equally closed and it sucks, go figure. (No it’s not open source, no you can’t publish in the App store without being poorly vetted by Googs, etc.)

      Go out and by any one of the other 2nd rate Android tablets if you feel so strongly about it… Why do you feel the need to whine so much?

      • In reply to all 3 of your replies to my comments all I have to say is this:

        You’ve proved my point about Apple fanboism.

        Oh – just an FYI – I never once said the words “Open Source”.

        Clearly Apple fans are not that skilled in comprehension.

    • Is the Galaxy Tab the only Android tablet you would buy right now? I think you should consider why that is the case…. other android tablets have better specs, and the same OS. Could it be – and please refrain from accusing me of being ‘not that skilled in comprehension’ – it is such a blatant rip off of the iPad that it comes close enough to an iPad experience without being an iPad? What does the Galaxy Tab 10.1 provide that the other available Android tablets miss?

      I believe Apple’s approach to the tablet market, is completely consistent with their historical approach to their products – back to the original Mac or LISA, to the iPod and iTunes – it was/is ‘closed’. I see no difference with their approach to the tablet market they have created.

      I am not in favour of settling differences in court, but I do think the Company has the right/obligation to protect their intellectual property, and I believe Apple shareholders are both rewarding management and are being rewarded in the stock market for the aggressive IP protection.

      Until other manufacturers stop blatantly rippling off Apple’s look/feel/technology and can compete on their own original ideas – eg., the Playbook or the TouchPad – and at a lower cost vs the iPad, there will be no tablet market, only an iPad market.

  7. Your arguments about tablets are valid, but they would have been equally valid about smartphones 2 years ago – and look what’s happened since. Yes smartphones are different in that they work as a phone (not just a platform for apps), but people are increasingly choosing Android phones over iOS phones – both of which have the same basic “phone” functionality.

    I guess what I’m saying is, Android tablets need another year or two to catch up. If it happened with smartphones, why shouldn’t it happen with tablets?

    In the meantime, tablet manufacturers need to keep prices as low as possible as this is the only way to build market share against Apple. I bought my Acer Iconia for about $180 less than the equivalent iPad (via eBay) and for that price difference I’m more than happy to accept its few shortcomings. If the RRP dropped to a similar price point I reckon they’d start to fly off the shelves. There is a huge natural market for these things (ie Android smartphone owners), it’s just a matter of grabbing their interest with a good price!

  8. This is funny.

    It’s in vouge to smash Apple for being a closed, cruddy ecosystem. And they’re “evil”. Don’t touch their products or you’ll get leprosy.

    And yet, there have been a plethora of tablets come to market. Each one touted as the next “iPad killer”. Most either fail to deliver, on virtually any front, or fail to sell. Or sell at well below cost.

    Android is getting better. It’s choice. Choice in a market is good.

    But every time I see someone say “product X coming out next week will SMASH that gey Apple and their shite!” it’s followed by a good deal of silence as the reality of what *actually* arrives in the market.

    There is a very simple way to beat Apple. Be just a little bit better. Make the user feel a little more loved. That’s it. You don’t need to have an open, or closed eco system. Just be better.

    It’s the reason iPhone has crippled any number of competitors. It’s the reason the iPad is still the benchmark.

    Apple looked at the market and delivered a product that raised eyebrows. They didn’t just do what the next guy did. They decided to be different. Be a little bit better. Make the user feel a little more loved.

    As for the arguments that Apple have effectively denied anyone else market share is rediculous. Five years ago the market was an entirely different space. Would Google be in the phone market today, if Apple didn’t drop-kick the competition a few years ago?

    It’s a good question.

    Finally – the typical John or Jill on the street has virtually zero interest in “open versus closed”. Zip. Nadda.

    And that’s where Apple has proven if you bring something people can actually drive, to market, the world changes. Like or hate, they have a knack for cutting into markets everyone claims are frozen shut.

    • “Finally – the typical John or Jill on the street has virtually zero interest in “open versus closed”. Zip. Nadda. ”

      But they should be interested in a company that goes out of its way to stop competition.

      Apple is denying market share to Samsung this way AND denying us choice.

      I don’t like Apple products because of how insular they are. That’s my opinion.

      However – my detest for Apple comes in the way it forces a lack of choice on the market.

      That is what people SHOULD be telling everybody about and everybody SHOULD care.

      It does nobody any good to deny this or allow Apple to do this.

      Like I said – Microsoft got hauled over the coals for doing similar actions. Apple were one of the companies that took part in that action.

      Why nobody is holding Apple accountable and excusing Apple for the actions is beyond me?

      Its clear to me from reading a lot of articles by journalists with supposed “knowledge” and from reading comments that people have no clue.

      Australia isn’t Apple’s bitch. People are. Why? Because people, apparently, are dumb.

      • Oh dear… so everyone else is ‘dumb’ and you are some sort of product genius? Go forth and multiply.

  9. The article says that Australia is Apple’s bitch for tablets. I can’t see how anyone can currently disagree (even if you take issue with some of the reasoning).

    Apple good or bad (who cares) is not the point. The point is that (at the high end) consumers will trust their hard-earned cash to a brand they trust. At the low end the choice is made for them. To compound this, the most credible competitor to date is not available here.

    All this is in the short-term. In the longer term I see this as a pretty bland market. After all, tablets already do pretty much everything that PCs and laptops do. Anecdotally the majority of tablet use is browsing + using apps that give a more focussed interface than a webpage. This is pretty boring stuff. So once the technology matures I would expect we end up with a situation like with laptops/desktops where you can either have something that does the job, or you can have something that does the job and somehow makes you feel good (for which you pay a premium). Business use is a different argument – first to market wins this IMO and that is Apple.

    The twist is perhaps the Android smartphones. If users of these phones start to feel a little loyalty then perhaps they will be more likely to consider the iPad’s competition. At the moment the competition isn’t here, so it is moot. Besides which, Apples brand is currently so strong (with the masses) that even if their product was actually weak it wouldn’t matter that much.

    PS The idea that most apple users are addicted to screenshots is as laughable as the idea that they are all weeping for the absence of Flash. Most (and it’s the most that matters) don’t care about either.

    • “To compound this, the most credible competitor to date is not available here”.

      Why is that? Because Apple is trying to stop competition (and doing so).

      So Apple being bad is the point. If they are deliberately cramping competition and we, as people, let them – as you say by not caring – we are not helping ourselves.

      We need to push Apple to change their ways for our own benefit.

      “Business use is a different argument – first to market wins this IMO and that is Apple.”

      Well you’re wrong there. When it comes to business use its not about first to market at all. Its all about value for money AND integrated with the existing ICT environment AND whether or not it meets business needs.

      This, in business, is rarely Apple. While the “CEO” may think it is – the people who actually look after the environment and put together the future planning for how the ICT environment will grow/mature/adapt/etc over time for the business will usually say its not.

      When it comes to business the answer is usually Enterprise. And that is not Apple’s market at all.

      • So don’t listen to the CEO… you know, the guy running the company. Listen to the IT guy with the i love Balmer t-shirt!

        So, you are a product genius who should be a CEO executing brilliant IT strategies such as ‘Apple is bad’. All those other people are dumb… I’m sold.

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