Amid so-so reviews of first-generation Android tablets, return rate worries on Samsung's Galaxy Tab and the likely launch of Apple's iPad 2, Google will debut its Honeycomb Android 3.0 operating system Wednesday.
Companies such as Samsung have raced to grab market share quickly in the Android tablet market. However, Samsung had to work with a version of Android that wasn't optimized for tablets. Nevertheless, Samsung sold 2 million Galaxy Tabs into the channel and sell-through was smooth. Just last week, Younghee Lee, senior vice president of Samsung's mobile communications business, said the company sold 2 million Galaxy Tabs in the fourth quarter. "In terms of sell-out (actual sales to consumers), we also believe it was quite smooth," said Lee. "We believe as the introduction of new device it was required to have consumers to invest in this new device, so therefore even though sell-out wasn't that fast as we expected we still believe sell-out was quite okay." Samsung declined to give projections for 2011 Galaxy Tab sales.
Samsung's "quite okay" sell-through rates, however, came at a high return rate. The big question is whether these returns hurt the prospects for future sales. Were folks disillusioned with Android tablets overall or just Samsung's? My guess is the latter given Apple has been selling millions of iPads. Android tablet pricing still can't upend the iPad. Apple's aggressive pricing on the iPad has given it a massive lead. Can Honeycomb give manufacturers such as Motorola some wiggle room on pricing? It's possible if Google can highlight some interface that doesn't exist today, but so far Android tablet prices still look too high.
Dell isn't doing the Android tablet market any favors. Dell launched its latest Streak tablet to mixed reviews. We'll let ZDNet's Matthew Miller sum it up:
The Dell Streak 7 has one fatal flaw and that is the resolution of the display. The thing is, the display quality is vital to the usage of a tablet and I personally would never buy one because of the display resolution. Another issue I have with it is the apparent limited battery life and again I want a tablet where I do not have to think about battery life for at least a full, busy day of usage.
Can Honeycomb allay those various concerns about the Android market to date? Perhaps, but the pressure is on.
So far, Honeycomb's demonstrations at CES and in the preview associated with the software developer kit look promising. The rub: We're only seeing what's being highlighted by Google so far. Only after a few Honeycomb tablets hit the market will it be clear whether devices like the Motorola Xoom are truly iPad rivals.