In an overly dramatic article on Techcrunch, John Biggs talks about “The Lonesome Death of WebOS“. He cites some seemingly-poor sales of TouchPads through Woot, just 612 versus 2,288 for the Motorola Xoom. He then goes on to talk about all the players in the smartphone market, saying there’s no room for a third player with Android and iOS in the lead.
Let’s be clear here. The numbers involved in the smartphone (and tablet) market are huge. Those woot numbers are a rounding error in the scheme of things. Even a player in third place could see tremendous shipping volumes. Furthermore, this is not a zero-sum game where you have to beat players in positions one and two to win. Apple has already shown how easy it is to disrupt a market and change perceptions if a product is compelling and executed well. We simply can’t say that just because there are two dominant players in the market, everyone else should pack up and go home.
More importantly, while Android might appear to be selling well (based on sales figures for the one site referenced by Techcrunch), it isn’t working well with consumers.
For example, witness the ratings on Amazon. I checked the following products, which I found via a search for ‘android tablet‘, then selecting Computers & Accessories / Tablets and then sorting by Bestselling. Theoretically this is the cream of the crop in tablet computing, as purchased from Amazon.
- ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101-A1 10.1-inch. 353 customer reviews, 174 five star, 76 four star, 27 three star, 36 two star, and 40 1 star.
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch, 32GB, Wi-Fi. 184 customer reviews, 101 five star, 35 four star, 23 three star, 14 two star, and 11 one star.
- Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch, 16GB, Wi-Fi. 184 customer reviews, 101 … ok, so the reviews are the same as for the 32GB model.
- HP TouchPad Wi-Fi 16GB 9.7-inch. 119 customer reviews, 80 five star, 19 four star, 5 three star, 5 two star, and 10 one star.
- HP TouchPad Wi-Fi 32GB 9.7-inch. Reviews are the same as for the 16GB model.
- ViewSonic gTablet 10-inch Multi-Touch LCD. 422 customer reviews, 148 five star, 145 four star, 37 three star, 28 two star, and 64 one star.
- Apple iPad 2 16GB Wi-Fi Black. 253 customer reviews, 135 five star, 56 four star, 23 three star, 19 two star, and 20 one star.
- Motorola XOOM 10.1-inch 32GB Wi-Fi. 379 customer reviews, 226 five star, 81 four star, 28 three star, 24 two star, and 20 one star.
You also get much the same bestselling results drilling down through Department, Electronics, Computers & Accessories, Tablets.
Let’s assume that the same general demographic group of individuals are buying tablets from Amazon regardless of the tablet, and therefore the reviews should represent a fairly consistent gauge of customer opinion across all of the tablets.
Also, since Amazon seems to rate similar-spec models as the same (as in the case of the Galaxy Tab and the TouchPad), let’s consider them as the same. That means the TouchPad is the third best-selling Android tablet on Amazon. Not bad for a product whose time has passed according to Techcrunch – especially as it’s not even running Android.
If we take those customer review scores and average them out, for example the number of five star reviews divided by the total number of reviews and then multiplied by 5, the number of four star reviews divided by the total number of reviews and then multiplied by 4, and so on, we get the following overall approval ratings for the products, that look a little like this:
Tablet ‘sales’ decrease from left to right, based on the position in the bestselling page sorting on Amazon. A more detailed but ugly version of the chart is also available on flickr. Feedback is welcome on whether this method is mathematically sound or not.
What does this chart mean?
- The ‘best selling’ tablet of the moment has the second lowest approval rating by customers (the ASUS EeePad). How long is that likely to remain ‘best selling’? Initial sales success does not necessarily mean good prospects for long-term longevity and vice-versa.
- The product with the most reviews is also the product least liked by customers (the ViewSonic gTablet). When customers are passionate (love/hate) they tend to be more vocal.
- The tablet with the highest approval rating is the HP TouchPad. The second best tablet is the Motorola Xoom.
What’s amusing is that the TechCrunch article justifies the statement that WebOS is dead based on one small set of sales data, a series of price cuts and a range of products made by Compaq prior to their acquisition by HP. I’ll warrant HP is a very different beast today: for example they let Palm run as a standalone unit until the TouchPad shipped, so perhaps they learnt the Compaq lesson. They’ve also put out a product that customers clearly love.
There are many more reasons why ancient history and simple sales numbers from one website are not enough to dictate the likely chances of success for a platform. Developer mindshare, app availability, customer preference, channel power, the list goes on.
Next time someone tells you “platform X is dead”, be sure to check their reasoning in detail. After all, “X is dead” is always good for page views, but it’s rarely a good source of balanced evaluation and reasoning.