The Model Year

by Christopher Paul on May 20, 2011

I just got done reading another Android tablet announcement and I can’t help but get a little frustrated. Its not that I’m upset the technology is advancing – far from it. I’m upset that I don’t know whether the PlayBook, Xoom, Galaxy Tab or some other incarnation is going to be a worthy investment. And the new versions keep coming – there doesn’t appear, to me at least, a regular production cycle I can count on. I think that hurts these tablet makers more than it helps them.

Take Apple. Thus far, they’ve released an iPad in the 1Q of its past two years of life. It doesn’t appear as if that’s changing anytime soon so if you’re in the market for one and want the latest, you have to wait until March to get it. If its January, you can be sure what you buy then will be outdated in one or two months.

Same with the iPhone. Rumors of it being delayed notwithstanding, It has been announced and delivered in June-July of every year since 1.0. iPods are also announced at the same time in September. Laptops and and Desktops gave a similar production cycle with small spec bumps here and there. The point is there is a calendar year lifecycle for all of Apple’s products which people can plan for.

Automobiles are no different. Within reason, everyone knows the new cars show up anywhere from September to December. But whatever the actual month, next year’s model will almost always appear in that same month. The 2012 3 Series from BMW will show up around late November early December and the 2013 will arrive in one of those two months in that year. You can count on getting the newest model around that time year after year.

And like Apple products and BMWs, you know when the clearance sales are going to go on. Neither company marks down their products much but you can get deals on older models. You’re familiar with what you’re getting and, most of the time, you know the difference between the new and old versions so you can judge to see if the discount still makes the transaction valuable.

But with Andorid mobile phones and tablets, its hard to tell when the next Xoom will come out. Its not clear to me when the next PlayBook will come out either but you know they’re working on it. And I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to wait until this time next year to launch it. Motorola, HTC, RIM, HP, Samsung, and all the other PC era companies are going to fight and claw their way to get the latest and greatest out to the public as fast as possible.

Like I said, I feel this hurts them – and Google’s Android by extension. Consumers are already willing to pay $500 to $850 for an Apple tablet. They know the risk/reward tradeoff. But with new Android models coming out with almost every few weeks, its hard to know what to get. It’s hard to know how to compare one producer to another. And sometimes its hard to know what model of within a producer to pick because even their own manufacturing cycles aren’t standardized.

Confusion adds doubt to the purchase and raises risk. It lowers the value and average selling price for the devices. The best thing an Android producer could do is align their production cycles to the calendar and stick to it. It doesn’t need to be yearly; every six months is fine so long as they’re upfront about whats coming and the value it gives the consumer (all without giving away specs, either).

By forming a standard, calendar-based, manufacturing cycle, Android producers become more like Apple – where hardware doesn’t matter as much as the experience. They also gain an advantage over other Android manufacturers because they can confidently say what’s happening when and build up the hype that Apple also enjoys. Plus, if they play their cards right, they can lower their production costs and better compete on price.

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