Android tablets can't beat the iPad's 'touch me!' factor

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Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad

Source: Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla/Flickr

Last week (on the 17th), Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 launched. Reviews have ranged from guardedly optimistic to enthusiastically positive, with some reviewers suggesting that this might be the tablet that can give Apple's iPad 2 a run for its money.

I don't see that happening. I don't think the Tab, or any Android tablet, will be able to touch the iPad in terms of marketshare any time soon. And I don't think this has anything to do with Android vs iOS or hardware form factors.

I think it all has to do with retail space.

[Also see: The tablet specs that matter]

Think back to when Apple first launched the iPad. Every Apple store featured the device prominently. It was in the front window displays so passersby could see it and become intrigued. It was displayed elegantly and almost beckoned to the customer, "Come in, touch me, see how I work." Apple hasn't let up on the message since Day 1, and even in other retail outlets that carry iPads, they're always nicely displayed.

Now let's talk about Android, and more specifically, the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Obviously this is a device that both Google and Samsung have a lot of confidence in, given that they were handed out at Google's I/O conference last month. Samsung chose Best Buy as a launch partner, and a Best Buy in Union Square, NYC got the devices a week in advance of anywhere else; a kind of tease for the big launch on June 17th.

I went into the local Best Buy (in Framingham, MA) on the 17th and asked about the Galaxy Tab 10.1. I was told that they'd come in, but weren't on display yet and that I should come back later. I didn't get back until Tuesday, June 21st. I still didn't find a Galaxy Tab on display, but I did find this:

Galaxy Tab 'display' at local Best Buy

In case you can't make out the lettering, the white label with the Samsung logo says "Galaxy Phase 1 Display," and the orange label says "Set Endcap Immediately on Friday June 17th." Finally the yellow label says, among other things, "For Store Merch Team" and "ATTN: 6/17 Galaxy Tablet Launch."

So inside this box is the big launch display that Samsung provided. Five days after launch and it's leaning against an endcap in the middle of the store. Classy.

Right down the aisle, near the front door and immediately visible as you head into the computing department is the iPad 2 display, with 3 iPads and surrounded by a corona of accessories available for purchase. Everything you need to walk out with a solid tablet computing experience.

Of course, the Galaxy Tab isn't the only Android tablet. This Best Buy does have an Acer Iconia laying out on display in one corner of their computing area. It isn't turned on and there's nothing to call attention to it. There are no accessories for it. It almost looks like a piece of gear the staff was using for inventory or something, and left behind. The ASUS Transformer isn't anywhere to be found, but the pricey Motorola Xoom does have an endcap down by the printers and stuff.

Now this is just one Best Buy and maybe all the other stores did have their displays up on Friday. But the point is, Apple controls the retail experience for the iPad 2. Android tablet manufacturers can only make suggestions, really, and hope that the staff of the various retail outlets comply and do a good job of showing off their products.

I consider myself a fairly informed customer when it comes to gadgets, but even I like to pick up and hold something as personal as a tablet or a smartphone before purchasing. A lot of the experience of these devices surrounds how they feel in your hands. I can read positive reviews of the Galaxy Tab until the cows come home, but until I hold it in my hands I won't know if it's the right tablet for me.

Apple knows this and is able to make sure I get the chance to hold an iPad 2 any time I like. Samsung knows it as well, but they don't have the resources to make sure I can touch a Galaxy Tab.

A consumer looking for a tablet experience, but not having any preconceived notion of which one to buy, is going to come out of the Best Buy I shop at with an iPad 2. They might stumble on the Xoom endcap, but they won't see the Galaxy Tab at all, and it's unlikely they'd find the Acer. But the iPad 2 is right there whispering "Touch me, take me home, I'm magic." to them. And that's just the way Apple wants things to be.

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