Toshiba launches ineffectual volley at Android tablet market

So it seems like tablets aren't going the way of netbooks any time soon. Yesterday Gartner released a report forecasting that tablet sales will double between 2011 and 2012 (to 118 million units this year) and that the trend will continue. Expect 182 million units sold in 2013 and 369 million by 2016.

It will probably come as no surprise to hear that the lion's share of these tablets will be iPads. Gartner says 72,988 iPads vs 37,878 Android tablets. How can Android manufacturers catch up?

Toshiba's solution seems to be built around lots of options. Yesterday they announced 7.7", 10" and 13" Android tablets in their Excite line. Wait...13"? As far as I know, this is the biggest Android tablet on the market. All three have Tegra 3 processors and will ship with Android 4.

Here's a quick rundown of each model. The Excite 7.7" is 13.4 ounces, .3" thick, and has a 1280x800 display. It goes on sale June 10 for $499 (16 GB) or $579 (32 GB). The Excite 10 is 1.18 pounds, .3" thick and has a 1280x800 display. It goes on sale May 6 for $449 (16 GB) or $529 (32GB). Yes, cheaper than the smaller version. And finally the Excite 13 is a whopping 2.2 pounds, .4" thick and has 1600x900 display. It goes on sale June 10 for $649 (16 GB) or $749 (32 GB).

So what makes these tablets stand out? Why should you buy one of these instead of some other Android tablet?

That's a good question and I think it's a big part of Android's problem. Picking an Android tablet is confusing!

The Excite 13 stands out just by being so huge. Toshiba is pitching this as a 'home tablet' and they're not expecting you to lug it around. It has a 4 speaker sound system and a Micro HDMI (the Excite 10 does too) and will go 13 hours on a charge. I'd like to see a higher resolution display on something that big, though. Yes, I'm back on my PPI tirade. According to my new favorite website, pixeldensitycalculator.com, this gives the Excite 13's screen 141.21 PPI. That's nothing to be ashamed of, but it's not a selling point either, when you're competing with the 3rd generation iPad's 264 PPI.

The iPad has a better display than any Android tablet and of course it has a more established ecosystem. In order for Android to start competing, manufacturers need to bump up their tech or drop their prices. It's hard to argue that a 10", $450 Android tablet with an adequate screen is a better deal than a 10", $499 iPad with a stunning screen, particularly to a non-geek.

I like these tablets because of the connectivity offered via Mini USB and Mini HDMI ports (the 7.7 drops the latter), expandable capacity via MicroSD slots (the 13 actually has a standard SD slot) and the open nature of the Android OS, but those are geeky perks that I don't think the average consumer considers. They want something easy to buy, easy to use and easy to get help with, and sadly for Android fans, that's the iPad.

What will sway the average consumer? Saving money, plain and simple. A good quality $200 Android tablet might be enough to convince Joe Consumer to try something different.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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