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Dell signals larger Android tablet troubles

Dell's decision to delay the launch of an Android tablet that competes directly with the iPad doesn't bode well for Android tablet success in the U.S. market this year.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

This week, a Dell executive threw cold water on an already-lukewarm Android tablet market in the U.S., and his comments echo recent sniping by Nvidia's CEO about the launch of the Motorola Xoom.

Though Apple has sold 25 million iPads to date--many of those in the U.S.--Android tablet makers like Motorola and Samsung are selling a fraction of that. Motorola said it has shipped 250,000 Xoom tablets. Samsung has fared a bit better, with just under 1 million out the door in the first quarter, according to DisplaySearch.

Samsung's relatively robust number includes a large chunk of overseas sales and still pales when compared with the tally chalked up by Apple, which sold the same number of iPad 2s in just the first weekend of sales in the U.S.

John Thode, a Dell vice president and manager of the company's mobility business, said in an interview with CNET this week, that the U.S. market just isn't ready for the successful launch of an Android tablet. Dell's first 10-inch Android tablet, the Streak 10 Pro, will launch in China first, sometime this summer. The U.S. market launch probably won't happen until later this year or next year, according to Thode.

A window at a Staples store in suburban Los Angeles.  The Android tablet has arrived, but to a lukewarm reception.
A window at a Staples store in suburban Los Angeles. The Android tablet has arrived, but to a lukewarm reception. Brooke Crothers

"There's a bit of a haze over some early launches," Thode said about the U.S. tablet market. "I don't want to criticize competition too much, but I think the [Motorola] Xoom has had mixed success because it launched before its time. The channels were confused, the pricing was confused," he said.

That sentiment is similar to criticism leveled by Nvidia's CEO about the Xoom launch last month.

Thode continued. "Our view is rather than try to rise above that noise--or worse, add to that noise--it is better to go get some traction in a market that will be a larger market. China will clearly be the largest tablet market in the world in a very short time."

And Thode believes the U.S. consumer isn't ready yet. The Chinese consumer "is much more savvy" about tablet adoption he said.

Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, agrees. "The problem is that you have to educate the consumers about the experience," he said. Consumers are used to comparing PCs based almost solely on specifications, i.e., price-performance--while tablets have more subtle distinctions based on the tablet's overall "experience," Shim said.

"Apple has had such success in that market because it has been able to hold the hand of the consumer and walk them through the experience," he said.

All of the tablet confusion in the U.S. also raises bigger questions about the actual size of the tablet market stateside. Though Apple has clearly succeeded, it's possible that most of the consumers who want a tablet already have one--the iPad. And the potential for a lot of demand beyond Apple just isn't there yet, at least not in the U.S.