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Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets – too geeky to succeed?

Andrew Williams


Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets - too geeky to succeed?

Google's Android 3.0 Gingerbread is too geeky to appeal to mainstream buyers, according to analyst Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research. He calls the new tablet operating system a thing designed "by the geeks, for the geeks, and of the geeks" and says that "Honeycomb is insignificant to Google revenues" implying the platform's upcoming tablets have little chance of lightening the average buyer's purse.

These comments were made after Chowdhry experienced the Motorola Xoom tablet first-hand, so he isn't simply spouting-off without any provocation. He complained of crashes, inconsistent battery life and other usability quibbles that may prove off-putting to the gadget fan not techy enough to be swayed into complacency by the openness and customisation the Android platform offers. Looming large over Chowdry's arguments of course is the iPad 2, which launched today in the US and features very few of these usability issues.

Chowdry cites Google's origins in free web services like Gmail and Google Maps as the source of the problems inherent in its approach to Android 3.0 and the tablet market. Where people may be happy to forgive the glitchier elements of Google's free services, Chowdry says "the consumer is unforgiving" when it comes to similar issues within an expensive tablet.

Chowdry doesn't however address the huge success Google has attained in the smartphone market, in spite of often-glitchy software and the significant fragmentation of Android thanks to the wide selection of OS versions and custom manufacturer-made interfaces littering the market. When many are happy to shell-out hundreds of pounds on an Android phone, is an Android tablet really such a dramatically different proposition?

Within the first wave of Android 3.0 tablets coming this year, the Motorola Xoom is the product designed with the heartiest helping-hand from Google itself - although it still bears Motorola's branding unlike the HTC-produced Google Nexus One and Samsung-made Nexus S, Google wants us to think of the Xoom as the first "official" Honeycomb device. It offers a 1GHz dual-core processor, 10.1in screen and up to 64GB of internal storage. We'll be back soon with a full review of the Xoom, so stay tuned for our verdict.

via Forbes


March 11, 2011, 7:57 pm

It's not just me then... earlier versions of Android do feel and look like the poor relative of the mobile OS world - something that has often somewhat offset by some nice hardware (which seems to pull the mind-scramble on many tech-heads).

But whilst Honeycomb looks like a step up for Android, not least in the looks department, it remains to be seen whether many of the devices launching this year will feel less generic and Frankenstein-ish than the efforts we've seen up to this point.

I'm a self-confessed techie - but Android does little for me. I want a pleasant experience in a luxury leisure device like a tablet - the geekier hackish things in my life feel best left to proper PC hardware.

The real test is coming though - looking forward to some hopefully *unbiased* head-to-heads here on TR when the tablet party is fully under way... e.g. TouchPad, PlayBook, Xoom, iPad2 and any other serious contenders... all tested in a number of real-world scenarios, rather than just judged on the hardware spec alone.


March 11, 2011, 8:05 pm

Good job that the public always checks to see what market analysts say first.

I remember the kicking that was meted out to the Ninty DS, the Ninty wii and Kinect before they launched and they've all gone on to sell like hot cakes. In fact the iPad had quite a kicking when that was first launched because 'tablets are a niche market'. I remember when the big argument for 3G mobile phones was video calling! Then mobile Internet became a reality and the phones really took off.

That's the trouble with analysts they're so busy looking backwards that they forget to look forwards.

Well done for picking up the point regarding the runaway success of the Android phones, I personally have no doubt that the Android tablets will become a huge hit eventually but it's going to take a while for the prices to drop, the fine tuning of the UI to be sorted and the performance to leap past the iPad. The Android phones have managed it.



March 11, 2011, 8:20 pm

I kind of do agree. From what I've seen I think Honeycomb is hugely promising but it definitely looks like it's been rushed out of the gate to compete with the iPad 2. Give it another six months to improve the polish and build up a solid library of apps and it might be a different story.

The iPad seems to have pleny of apps that take advantage of its form factor but iOS itself just looks like it's been stretched out with not much thought given to how it can be improved to make better use of the greater screen estate in the way that Honeycomb seems to.

None of this is to say that it's a bad product, indeed for most people it's most definitely the better product at this point in time. I just think there are probably quite a few improvements Apple could make.


March 11, 2011, 8:53 pm

Well the main difference been android on a phone and on a tablet is that there are a hell of a lot of people in the world with contracts tieing them to a phone (so they "have" to pick something) compare to almost no-one being tied to a tablet, the tablet is purely a "desire" device and thats where Apple shines.

Also in the mobile sector the iPhone was/is never subsadised so Android is usually the cheap alternative, where as in the tablet world the android tablets released so far have suffered from price points that were too high (i.e. the same or more expensive than the ipad) so it seems the iPad is the "budget" choice for the average consumer.

Honeycomb has the potential to be great, but I think it really needs time to mature, the iPad had 2 years of iOS bacground when it came out but the thinking behind honeycomb and the differnces between it and "phone" android means its almost starting from scrach, however im still confident it will take off once some of the bugs are sorted, more content creation apps are developed (like the video editor, how about some website editors?) and good quality budget honeycomb tablets (priced around £250) hit the market


March 11, 2011, 8:58 pm

Android offers in my opinion is diversity, different hardware specs/design make the choice very appealing to general public. From top high end iphone price range to mid-low (Nokia)throw-aways, anyone can pick an android mobile that fits their wallet and need. The same thing will happen to tablets as well. At the moment, everyone is competing on hardware to be win the crown, overtime I am sure some firm will spend the time fine tuning android os and make it more user-friendly, awesome looking and user specific. For instance, HTC's little 7incher is posed to target the styler drawing/writing group and I'm sure they will just do well in that department. Unfortunately with the speed Google pushing out new os updates, so many phones will be left behind by manufactures. Then again, this is a consumer society, how long will you keep your phone for?


March 11, 2011, 8:59 pm

This is a big issue as the appeal of the practicality of tablets isn't really what drives sales. If it was then those around before Jobs stuck his oar in would have taken off. Tablets work because of the "shiny shiny". The OS must have "shiny shiny". Also devices like this must have a slick interface. I used Windows Mobile (the old version) and it taught me on thing - whilst I was happy to be geeky on a PC, I was not happy to be geeky on a phone. It should just work and be slick and using WebOS has shown me the way forward. A tablet that does not have the shiny and ultimately slick interface will not sell well as people do not have access to the keyboard and mouse when the machine starts dicking them about. It's a portable thing and used in distracting situations - bus, train, coffee shop, etc - i.e. not the best place to be employing your brain in order to do something that the device should just do. Apple is therefore the way forward right now, but when WebOS tablets appear in the shops, the geeks may well run to them as they just work when you want them to, have the shiny and you can do what you like to the thing and install what you like.


March 11, 2011, 9:00 pm

Who expects Google to release a new product that is not in beta?


March 11, 2011, 9:05 pm

I do agree with this analyst, all of the reviews I've read have pointed to Honeycomb being in need of some polish to smooth out the rough edges. These aren't the kind of foibles that would dissuade most geeks, but average users are extremely unforgiving. The slightest inconvenience will make them wish they'd bought an iPad instead.

However, this was also my opinion of Android when it first appeared on the G1. Android smartphones have come a long way since. You could argue that Android is still the geeky alternative to iOS, but at least now it's polished enough to appeal to all users, not just geeks. In time, I'm sure Honeycomb and its successors will offer a true alternative to the iPad.


March 11, 2011, 9:09 pm

I think the Xoom is the wrong device to showcase Honeycomb. It was clearly rushed, no other explanation for them sticking a separate power input in there and not even trickle charge from USB. Then there's the "no Flash yet", "non operational microSD card" and for the US market they'll be spending a nice chunk of cash replacing all those radios with 4G for free.

That all really shows their EE engineers had to push something out of the door at any cost. Not sure if that move will pay off well for Motorola.

But like others said let's see what happens when other brands come out with their Honeycomb products in a couple of months, with all the bells and whistles really working.

That said of course in the meantime I'll be heading out to an Apple Store to try out the iPad2, so by then it might be too late :-)


March 11, 2011, 9:37 pm

It's becoming increasingly clear as these products move from trade shows to the shop floor that Android 3.0 is very much business as usual for Google. I.E. it's a beta product that will iterate, probably fairly quickly, through a number of versions until they have something that works relatively well. This is not in and of itself a problem, it's actually a valid way of producing software providing prospective buyers do their homework.

The problem comes with the hardware, specificaly the manufacturers. Let's be honest, Samsung, Motorola, LG etc aren't going to be exactly running over each other to provide a constant stream of timely updates. There's very little in it for them and in fact it can actively hurt their business model, they'd much rather people bought a new unit to get the latest and best software than just wait for a simple software update. Compared to Apple and their integrated approach it's night and day. It's bad enough in the smartphone market but when you're talking about tablets costing £500+ you can't be expecting your users to upgrade every year. Granted there's the assumption that the manufacturers will treat tablets like they do phones but with the next Tegra revision already scheduled for later this year does anyone expect this to change?

Google desperately need to take this situation in hand and divorce the base OS from the manufacturer-specific stuff. That way the new software is just a generic upgrade file that can be run by the end user. Better still Google could make one of the 'Google Device' requirements be signing up to a pre-release test program to ensure compatibility with that device. Either that or, as much as it'd annoy users, allow the manufacturers to charge a small sum, say £10 or £20, for a point release (i.e. bug fix releases are free). Not nice, not user friendly, but at least you'd have the option of upgrading where you might not at the moment and the manufacturers have a reason to put the work in to get the upgrade available.

mister jd

March 11, 2011, 10:31 pm

If Google want to show their technology in the best possible way, they need to have an in-house team of mobile phone designers. Like Apple. Then they wouldn't have to worry about inconsistencies with hardware. Like Apple. And we wouldn't have to wait for manufactures to get their s**t together to get updates. Like Apple. I sound like an Apple fanboy and I bought a HTC Desire HD when I could have bought an iphone because I like the freedom of Android. Just waiting for my DAMN GINGERBREAD UPGRADE!!!


March 12, 2011, 1:30 am

The Ars Technica review of the Xoom was great, comparing the cringeworthy level of disclaimers to a holiday in Russia where, because all the artefacts had been relocated to the one museum, the tour guide apology at the original locations of, "Sorry. This is a replica." was heard with hilarious frequency.

You know, when you read the reviews of the Xoom, it becomes apparent that the ragged edges of Gingerbread are really the least of its problems. Non-fucntional SD slot? And then this 'upgrade' deal where you have to ship it back to them, so they can pry it open again and shove the 4G hardware inside? Embarrassing. That's almost a concession that they literally haven't finished building the damn thing. Rushed is an understatement.

The only way they could've competed with Apple was by committing to a lower entry price, instead of higher specs. Oh well, maybe this is where a wild card like ZTE can step in and translate some of their Blade magic to the tablet market, cos thanks to their specification pissing contest, the big players like Motorola and Samsung already look like they're buzzed out until Round 3.

Arctic Fox

March 12, 2011, 7:53 am


Have to say that I agree. It is very unfortunate that this tab from Moto is the first out of the gate with Honeycomb on board. It is a beta model that's been rushed out too early and is way overpriced. One of the huge advantages that Android mobiles now have is the price/performance metric. HTC's Desire HD is well built, powerfull etc etc and roughly 40% cheaper than the cheapest version of the iPhone. (Sim-free Amazon). I am personally very pleased with my Desire Z - would I be pleased to own the Xoom? Unfinished kit and at that price? Honeycomb looks very promising and when there is a decent supply of apps suitable for "the big screen" and a range of kit at realistic price-points it will no doubt do very well. When I look at the price points some of the tab producers appear to be aiming at I begin to wonder what their marketing people are on - must be some really good stuff!


March 12, 2011, 2:34 pm

Well there are a lot of geeks out there! But of course that does not excuse the lack of polish to a system front-end/GUI - something Mr& Mrs Average will be comforted by when buying and using (recommending?) such devices.


March 12, 2011, 8:40 pm

Cut-price tablets relying on Google for a consistent, powerful OS may well be a success story. After all, isn't it the Android models that are priced below the iPhone 4 that are really cleaning up? For the consumer there's a clear demonstration of value for money, and while many may still desire an iPhone the trade-offs are not difficult to make.

Apple have polished hard to make the iPad into iPad 2. Whether other manufacturers like it or not, it's the top end. People will not pay more for tablets from other vendors; indeed, expensive competition will only demonstrate the iPad value proposition more clearly. But cheaper alternatives will come, and thanks to Google and Android 3.x they should, then, find their stride.

That is assuming that such a Market exists for tablets. We just don't know yet. Is it possible that Apple has created not a market for tablets, but for iPads alone?

Sam Wright

March 12, 2011, 9:07 pm

Just to say, if anyone is interested, the Ipad (1) has had it price slashed ont he original site, It suddenly isn't looking so expensive!

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