Can Honeycomb tip the scale for Android tablets?

Android 3.0 is designed to be a tablet OS and could help Android gain momentum against the Apple iPad.

Since Apple introduced the world to the iPad, the tablet rivalry has been heated between iOS and Android. The problem, though -- for Android at least -- is that the rivalry was filled with idle speculation and vaporware compared to the blockbuster real-world sales for the iPad. With the impending launch of Android 3.0, a.k.a. "Honeycomb" -- designed specifically for tablets -- perhaps Android's tablet fortunes will change.

For most of 2010, Apple could not manufacture iPads fast enough to keep up with demand. Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads in about 8 months following the spring launch of the tablet. More than seven million iPads sold just in the final quarter of 2010, and a report from the New York Times suggests that the iPad would beat two-thirds of the Fortune 500 if it were a standalone company.

Android hasn't been completely absent from the tablet market. The most notable have been the Dell Streak and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. But, the Dell Streak was never really taken seriously as a tablet -- more of a smartphone with a thyroid condition. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy Tab seems like a comparable tablet, but price slashing by the wireless vendors selling the Galaxy Tab, and Samsung's reluctance to divulge actual sales data indicate it may not be selling all that well.

To be fair, Google stated very clearly that existing variants of Android are not suited for tablets. Android 3.0 -- commonly referred to by its code name "Honeycomb" -- has been developed by Google specifically as a tablet version of the Android mobile OS.

Honeycomb has a variety of features and enhancements that will make Android much more compelling as a tablet than existing efforts to emulate a tablet experience using a smartphone OS. For a dramatic illustration of the difference, just compare an iPhone app running on the iPad versus an app developed specifically to take advantage of the larger screen and unique aspects of the user interface in the tablet.

But, the market doesn't just want an Android tablet comparable in functionality to the Apple iPad. The market expects the Android tablet to offer an iPad-like experience at a steep discount. Not quite "India $35 tablet" cheap -- but Nook Color, or CherryPad cheap.

The Motorola Xoom has been the focus of attention as the first tablet expected to be available running Honeycomb. It has compelling features and formidable specs that make it look like tough competition for the iPad. However, the rumored price of $700 plus will make it a tough sell against the iPad, especially with the iPad 2 expected in the next couple months.

Honeycomb should fundamentally change the game between Android and iOS in the tablet market and help Android tablets gain some momentum. But, Apple has a huge head start over rival tablet platforms, so Android still faces an uphill battle to chip away at the iPad's dominance.

Tags consumer electronicsGoogleapple ipadAndroidPhonestabletsHandhelds / PDAsAppleDelltablet PC

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)

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