|Google Must Make Tablet PCs Honeycomb Ready|
|Written by PCMag - Sascha Segan|
|Tuesday, 07 December 2010|
Google Must Make Tablet PCs Honeycomb Ready
Google promises a tablet OS in 2011, but what do we do with the tablets coming out before then?
Last night Google's Andy Rubin finally unveiled the tablet-friendly version of the Android OS last night. Rubin showed off Android 3.0, aka "Honeycomb," on a prototype Motorola tablet—and promptly threw the nascent Android tablet market into further confusion.
Honeycomb is coming out next year. Yeah, sure, it rewrites core apps to make them more tablet-licious, but the most important aspect is the APIs. It looks like Honeycomb will let third-party programmers write apps designed for a wide range of Android tablets, rather than blown-up phone apps or app versions targeted to one specific manufacturer or device.
Google has always had a weird relationship with their Android manufacturer partners. Sometimes they work tightly together, as with Motorola's Droid. Sometimes they seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other, such as with Archos's bizarre, mutant-Android devices. Google likes to disclaim responsibility by saying Android is an "open" project, but it's the simple truth that Google guides the main branch of Android. Most importantly, Google blesses and controls the Android Market, which is the way most third-party apps get sold for Android gadgets.
Recently the lack of communication seems to have been particularly intense. OEMs want to make tablets, and Google hasn't been offering tablet-friendly software on the schedule OEMs want. Google's current OS, 2.2 "Froyo," is designed for phones. Manufacturers have to jump through hoops to make it work on a tablet, and there's no good way to search for tablet-friendly software in the Android Market. The brand-new Gingerbread release doesn't look much better.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab has done a decent job making lemonade here, and the Tab's success so far shows how much consumers want a good, non-Apple-made tablet. But Samsung hasn't yet been able to convince many third-party software developers to come along and create tablet-centric apps before Google has a tablet-centric OS.
This situation is going to get much worse at CES, because I've heard that at the January trade show we're going to see a ton of Android tablets. If too many of those run Froyo, it could stall the Android tablet ecosystem. Devices need apps, apps need APIs and stores, and Google doesn't seem interested in providing the real tablet APIs and the tablet software store until Honeycomb.
Upgrades Are Key
This means Google and its OEM partners need to have some hard discussions about the Android upgrade problem. Currently, the upgrade situation is a mess. Google puts out new versions of Android and then various devices get them promptly, eventually, or never.
Rubin seems to have faith that the market will shake out the laggards here, but I'm not convinced. People don't buy a phone based on whether, six months from now, the manufacturer will deliver an upgrade they don't know is coming yet. They buy the phone based on things like price, carrier, speed, call quality, screen quality, and color—things they can touch and see at purchase. The stuttering pace of upgrades for Samsung's Galaxy S phones doesn't seem to have slowed their sale. There's just not a huge incentive for manufacturers to offer upgrades promptly.
For Android to continue its success and for Android tablets to match the iPad, Google and its OEMs need to get into a room and hash out the upgrade situation—not just for tablets, for phones, too. Mobile devices are no longer fixed-feature, black boxes. They're handheld computers with software platforms that grow. Apple understands this; Microsoft seems to as well.
Froyo tablets may not take over the world. But "Honeycomb Ready" tablets might. Can Google and manufacturers make that leap together?
More tablet coverage: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2373951,00.asp