Watch out, iPad: The Android tablet army is here

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Android Tablet Army

A little over a year ago, a strong buzz was building in the tech world. Something big was beginning; the rumblings were impossible to ignore. The mobile world was about to undergo a massive shift, many industry-watchers sensed, and there'd be no turning back.

The time was the fall of 2009. Google's Android platform had been around for a while but had up to that point remained a niche product -- a still rough-around-the-edges operating system with limited hardware and mainly early adopter appeal. Then came the Droid.

Motorola's Droid phone, while not the first Android phone, was the first device to make "Android" a household name. It introduced Google's Android 2.0 OS, which took the software to a whole new level. It set a gold standard for Android phones and, in doing so, paved the way for a cavalry of high-end Android devices that'd launch in rapid-fire succession. It quickly became clear that this Android thing was no fluke and was poised to seriously shake up the smartphone market.

Android Tablets: The Contenders Arrive

Motorola Tablet

Fast-forward now to today. Motorola is set to introduce its flagship Android tablet at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. The Motorola Android tablet will mark the introduction of Honeycomb, Google's first tablet-optimized version of Android (see the teaser video here). It'll undoubtedly be followed by countless other Honeycomb-running tablets, some of which have already been discussed at CES.

[UPDATES: Google officially announces Android 3.0 Honeycomb

Honeycomb image gallery / Motorola launches Xoom tablet with Android 3.0

Sure, Android tablets have been around for a while now, most notably in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The Galaxy Tab has done a commendable job testing the waters and getting the ball rolling for the Android tablet form. But, much like Android in the pre-Droid era, it's an early model of a not-quite-fully-cooked technology. The Tab adapted Google's Android 2.2 software to work within the tablet form, and while it's certainly not a bad experience, it's also not the tablet-optimized experience Google wants Android to have. That experience is about to debut.

Android Tablets: The Honeycomb Experience

From what we're hearing, the Android Honeycomb generation of tablets will run on dual-core chips with high-resolution (though not necessarily supersized) displays. Based on an early demo of Motorola's tablet, we know the software will contain on-screen virtual navigation buttons to replace the hardware buttons typically found on Android phones,

Motorola Android Tablet

meaning there'll be no right or wrong way to orient the devices. Honeycomb will enable apps to take advantage of the extra screen real estate on tablets, too: In Gmail, for example, you'll get a more spread-out interface in which you can see your inbox while simultaneously viewing individual messages. Any app will be able to follow that model and split into multiple side-by-side panes, which can provide any functions the developer desires.

Motorola's inaugural Honeycomb tablet has the potential to do for Android tablets what the Droid did for Android phones: set a golden standard, guided closely by Google, and bring the product into the public consciousness. If Honeycomb delivers on what Google's been promising -- and if Motorola and other subsequent hardware-makers deliver on their end of the deal -- this, like the original Droid launch, could be the beginning of something big.

Android Tablets and the iPad Battle

Of course, there's one issue that's impossible to ignore: What about that other tablet -- you know, the one with the lowercase "i"? Apple's iPad has undeniably transformed the once-forgettable form of tablets into a popular and highly sought-after commodity. But let's face it: It isn't the end-all product. The iPad obviously has plenty of appeal and plenty of good things going for it, but it also has plenty of restrictions in what it allows you to do.

An iPad, by design, doesn't work like a regular computer. You can't drag and drop files between it and your PC; you can't browse its hard drive in any normal fashion. If you want to manage your music, you've gotta use iTunes to do it. You can multitask only within the confines of limited and carefully defined parameters. You can't view any Flash-based websites -- and forget about installing any program that isn't explicitly approved by Apple's app patrol committee.

For some folks, that's fine -- and for those people, the iPad is a perfect solution. But for those of us who want the ability to fully customize our computing devices, to do what we want with them, the Android tablets can fill that gap and offer things the iPad can't provide. And with the wide range of options in manufacturer, style, and size that'll soon be appearing, there'll be no shortage of choices compared to the iPad's one-size-fits-all approach.

Now, some may argue that the iPad is the de facto standard, a force that's practically impossible to beat. The general public, after all, knows the name iPad. Businesses are buying them. It's too little, too late.

Consider this: Fourteen months ago, when we started talking about the massive growth Android was bound to make and how it'd almost certainly reshape the smartphone market, many of those same naysayers pooh-poohed the very notion. How could Android possibly compete with the iPhone, they said? The iPhone is the de facto standard, a force that's practically impossible to beat. The general public knows the name iPhone. Businesses are buying them. It's too little, too late.

Look where we are now.

To be clear, there isn't going to be any sort of sudden overnight shift in the tablet market. The iPad isn't going to fall out of favor anytime soon -- heck, it's probably never going to "fall out of favor" at all. But over the next couple of years, more and more attractive Android tablets are going to arrive. They'll offer more and more alternatives to Apple's one-size-fits-all,

Android Power Twitter

locked down approach. The iPad will no doubt continue to be a financial success, just as the iPhone is now. But in terms of overall user adoption, it sure seems like the stage is set for another smartphone-reminiscent market share shuffle.

This is the beginning: The tablet wars are officially on. Grab a front row seat and get ready to watch the bullets fly.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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