Is the Galaxy tab an iPad alternative for consumers, publishers?

Samsung’s new Galaxy tablet arrived in stores this week, and while it is being touted as an iPad alternative, the early reviews are mixed.

Walt Mossberg at All Things Digital calls the Android-based Galaxy a real rival to the iPad:

“I’ve been testing the Tab for a couple of weeks and I like it. It’s a serious alternative to the iPad and one that will be preferred by some folks. It includes the three most-requested features missing in the iPad: a camera (two in fact); the ability to run Web videos and applications written in Adobe’s Flash software; and multitasking, though, to be fair, the latter feature is coming to the iPad imminently via a software update.”

David Pogue at The New York Times also likes the device, though he notes some shortcomings:

“As smooth and slick and convenient as the Galaxy is, though, it’s not without its frustrations. When you visit sites like nytimes.com, CNBC.com and Amazon.com, the Galaxy’s browser shows the stripped-down, mobile versions of those sites. According to Samsung, there’s no way to turn that feature off and no way to visit the full-size sites. You can delete the little ‘m.’ in the Web address until you’re blue in the browser, but the Galaxy always puts it right back.”

Christopher Null at Wired.com agrees that the device is a solid contender in the tablet market. However, he has a few reservations. Most Android apps are not sized for the device’s 7-inch screen, a few of the buttons are awkwardly located, and Web browsing seems occasionally sluggish. But, overall, he writes:

“These are relatively minor complaints, in the end. The Tab requires some retraining in the way you use a mobile device — it’s somewhere between a phone and a regular tablet — but once you get it, it’s a pleasure to use. The Tab ultimately reveals itself not as a competitor to the iPad but as a new class of mobile devices: a minitablet that is designed to go everywhere you do.”

Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan observes many of the same strengths and weaknesses of the tablet during his use, but his conclusions are a bit more back-and-white. He writes that the Galaxy is a compromise between a smart phone and a full iPad-sized tablet — but not in a good way:

“Typically, the point of a compromise is to bring together the best of both sides. The Tab is like a compromise’s evil twin, merging the worst of a tablet and the worst of a phone. It has all of the input problems of a tablet, with almost none of the consumption benefits. With more apps geared to its tweener size, it could be a lot better, but it’s not clear they’re coming anytime soon, if ever. The Tab is an awkward first attempt at this kind of tablet — wait for somebody else to do it better.”

What the Galaxy means for publishers

Of course, no one could really predict the impact of the iPad before it launched, so consumers will be the ones who decide if the Galaxy Tab is a contender. What matters to publishers is that, with a legion of Android tablets in the pipeline, they can no longer simply focus on the iPad as the sole basis of a mobile strategy.

As the Galaxy Tab (or whatever is next) gains momentum, it is going to put added pressure on news organizations to abandon native apps and move to HTML5 mobile websites. At the least, they will need to follow the model of The Wall Street Journal, which is pursuing a “pay once, read anywhere” digital subscription strategy with the launch of its Android tablet app.

Regardless of the development burden for publishers, consumers don’t mind having different native apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7. What they don’t like is having to pay a separate subscription fee for every platform on which they want to read your content.

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