There’s no question Apple’s iPad set the bar high for tablet computers last spring. The device has sold anywhere from 13 million to 14.5 million units.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab sold 1 million units in a few months, but this tablet is powered by Android 2.2, which not even Google would claim was optimized for the larger screens required by tablets.
Just as Google and its carrier partners countered the iPhone with the Nexus One and several other solid Android smartphones, the partners believe they have a solid answer in tablets powered by the forthcoming Android 3.0, or Honeycomb operating system.
The Motorola Xoom will launch running Android 3.0 next month, followed later this year by LG’s G-Slate, Asus’ Eee Pad Transformer and unnamed tablets from Samsung.
The Xoom sports a 10.1-inch screen powered by the Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, which means it should easily be faster than the iPad.
The Xoom also boasts front- and rear-facing cameras, the chief hole the iPad has yet to fill, though that should change with the iPad 2 launch this spring.
Multitasking is another big gap for the iPad, where only one application runs at a time. The Xoom also offers an HDMI output to connect the tablet to the TV to play video or games.
Google Android engineer Mike Cleron showed off the Xoom Jan. 6 during Verizon’s keynote at the 2011 Consumer Electronics show, where the device was feted as the best of the dozens of tablets introduced at the show in Las Vegas.
It became quickly clear during the demo that the Xoom, with thumbnail access points for touch gestures and multitasking capabilities instead of physical buttons, is a viable iPad challenger.
Android 3.0 Threatens Windows, Not iPad
Cleron showed the various 3D capabilities of the Xoom, where information surfaces and disappears along with users’ gestures.
Google Maps for Android 5.0 on the Xoom drew oohs and ahs from the audience. When Cleron zoomed in and tilted the Xoom, the buildings on the map raised up in 3D. You won’t see this on the iPad; Google Maps 5.0 is for Android only right now.
Forrester Research analyst Sara Rotman Epps correctly noted that Android 3.0 on the Xoom looked similar to the Palm WebOS “deck of cards” user interface for switching between applications.
That’s because the lead UI designer for Google on Android 3.0 was none other than former WebOS designer Matias Duarte. In an interview with Engadget, Duarte stressed that Honeycomb offers a virtual button users can tap to see a list of recent applications, along with a name and icon to access them.
“I have everything at my fingertips and I haven’t even launched any applications yet,” Cleron explained in his demo. “This shows what you can do with an operating system that was designed from the ground up to support multitasking.”
The Xoom will launch in February on Verizon’s 3G network, but it will be upgradable to Verizon’s 4G LTE network later this year. Verizon’s LTE capability will reduce the latency for video and gaming applications.
Analysts are excited about this.
“We expect Android/Honeycomb to take significant share of mobile operating systems, especially as consumers upgrade to 4G networks,” added Jefferies and Co. analyst Youssef Squali.
However, Epps cautioned industry watchers not to view Honeycomb tablets as threats to the iPad so much as to Microsoft Windows 7 machines.
“Of the 24.1 million tablets we expect U.S. consumers to buy in 2011, the majority will still be iPads, but consumers looking for a cheaper, feature-rich alternative will turn to Google, not Microsoft,” Epps concluded.