Android tablets need to up the ante

We know people love them iPads, but now there's a number to how much. A YouGov survey has just shown that 77% of people about to buy a tablet want to buy an iPad 2.

There are seven other flagship tablets on the market but the iPad 2 still canes it when it comes to consumer appeal. I can understand the BlackBerry PlayBook - it's being sold without an email client; the HP TouchPad - it's great but hasn't had the marketing push yet; and the HTC Flyer - it's not running on the latest version of Android, which, if you're into Android, matters.

But it's disappointing that the existing handful of Android Honeycomb tablets still haven't made the mark they deserve. (Interestingly, Mobile Choice readers seem to represent a special segment of the population - 81% of you plan to buy a Honeycomb tablet this year.) I would - Honeycomb is great on tablets: powerful, customisable and supports more features than iOS, which is the exact same interface you get on iPhone and iPod Touch.

Forget Flash - that's a boring argument that will resolve itself as more web developers use standard instead of proprietary languages. I wouldn't buy an iPad 2 because it doesn't support any of the video formats that my downloaded TV is coded in, iTunes is a hassle to use for media transfer, the push notification system is bare compared to Android (at least until iOS 5 is made available) and it's really not great if you're going to be typing a lot of emails.

So why is the iPad 2 still such a great sell?

1. Unusually for Apple, it's leading the market in price competition
The entry-level (16GB Wi-Fi-only) iPad 2 is £399. The Motorola Xoom and BlackBerry PlayBook match that, but the smaller, plainer HTC Flyer is more. Meanwhile, the price to pay for the LG Optimus Pad's 3D recording feature is £749. That's bordering on precious even if the 3D was done well. If you look at how Android was able to take on Apple in the smartphone market, it's down to its availability at low to mid price points, while even flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S II clock in for less than the iPhone 4.

2. Apple owns the app space 

At 100,000 iPad-optimised apps, the App Store cleans up with Android's possibly-1,000-but-there's-no-way-find-them. There's a section on the Android Market for featured tablet apps, but there are only about 100 there - and we still need a better way to filter out those apps that are designed for the bigger Honeycomb screen. The recent launch of HP's TouchPad running on webOS - another lovely-for-tablet system that trounces iOS - might throw a spanner in the market. Or it would, if there were more than 300. Of course, webOS is hot-off-the-presses new, and the iPad has been around for 15 months.

3. Someone needs to bring sexy back (to Android)

Books shouldn't be judged by covers, but tech is definitely judged on hardware design. And none of the Xoom, Optimus Pad, Flyer or Iconia Tab approach the deliciously tactile aluminium frame of the iPad 2. The closest contender available is the Eee Pad Transformer, which has a high quality plastic build, but is still a touch chunkier at 680g to the iPad 2's 600g. I'm holding out for the super-slim Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to lead the way for Honeycomb tablet style. Of course, we're at an interesting place right now - most people don't need a tablet, and most people don't know why they want one. So all the computer-esque things that Android tablets can do aren't particularly prized, especially when there are so many innovative iPad apps -like Flipboard and Instapaper - that add a whole new dimension to its functionality. YouGov reckons that when prices hit £250, tablets will become mass market - but that's a long way off for most manufacturers.

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