Google Android, BumpTop, iPad 3G Center Tablet Talk

The success of Apple's iPad touched off a number of tablet rumors revolving around Google Android, some of which may be bunk and some of which may be true. But no analyst can deny Google's recent purchases of Agnilux and Bump Technologies point to the possibility of a Google tablet or two to rival the iPad. And if Google doesn't roll out an Android tablet, others are stepping up. Adobe showed off a prototype Android tablet running Flash and Air 2 at Web 2.0 Expo last week. Meanwhile, the iPad 3G is selling well in the early going, and Best Buy and Apple stores can't keep those on the shelves either.

Talk of tablet computers has been stirred to a frenzy ever since Apple's illustrious iPad launched and sold more than 1 million units in less than a month.

Since that launch, there has been a lot of news swirling around tablets based on Google's Android operating system, the iPad 3G and even HP's Slate tablet, which could run Windows 7 or Palm webOS.

Signs of Android tablets are everywhere, some rumors, some concrete proof. The New York Times said April 12 that Google is building a tablet based on Android.

The company declined to confirm this, but several other happenings pointed toward Google's interest in tablet computers. Google acquired Agnilux, which the New York Times said will provide Google software to adapt Android or Chrome Operating System to run on tablets or set-top boxes.

Android tablet talk reignited in April when Google confirmed it acquired Bump Technologies. Bump makes BumpTop, a piece of user interface software that enables a 3D multitouch desktop on Windows and Mac computers.

This sent a clear message to industry experts that the Google tablet rumors are for real. Gartner analyst Leslie Fiering told eWEEK that the Android user interface, which appeared first on smartphones, is not optimized for the larger screen sizes.

Fiering said BumpTop provides a differentiated interface and sends a strong message about Google's commitment to providing support for an Android ecosystem in the tablet space.

Boston University Prof. N. Venkat Venkatraman, chairman of the Information Systems Department of Boston University's School of Management, looked at the BumpTop buy as part of the broader trend of Google's rivalry with Apple.

"Looks like Google and Apple may be defining the battle for user interface when, just a few years back, we would have expected Microsoft to do so," Venkatraman told eWEEK. "This intensifies the competitive battle between Apple and Google."

He added that Google needs to figure out what lessons to take from smartphones as it goes to other areas such as tablets, set-top boxes and elsewhere where Android OS could be relevant.

And if Google doesn't roll out an Android tablet, others are stepping up. Adobe showed off a prototype Android tablet running Flash and Air 2 at Web 2.0 Expo last week.

All of these happenings mean Android is the logical "non-Apple" choice for tablet manufacturers that want to go against the iPad, Fiering said.

Speaking of which, how about that iPad? More than 1 million units served and counting. Best Buy and Apple stores can't keep them on the shelves and Apple's manufacturers can't build them fast enough for consumers overseas.

When the WiFi version of the iPad launched last month starting at $499, industry watchers said it would appeal to more consumers than the more expensive 3G version, which begins at $629.

That may prove true, but that's not to say the 3G iPad won't have its share of buyers. The 3G iPad started rolling out to customers who preordered it April 30. Piper Jaffary analyst Gene Munster estimated the iPad 3G shipped 300,000 units its first weekend.

That bodes well for 3G tablets overall. IMS Research forecasts that 3G mobile broadband will be present in over 33 percent of tablets shipping worldwide beginning in 2011.

While Apple's iPad is only the second 3G-connected tablet to enter the market after Archos 5 Internet Tablet, Technicolor and Sagem, which are offering in-home tablets marketed via fixed Internet service providers (ISPs), are also planning to introduce 3G-enabled models within the next 12 months.

"Many consumers desire the flexibility that 3G data services are enabling in portable devices, eliminating the dependency on WiFi home networks and hotspots," IMS Research analyst Anna Hunt said.