CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

Summary: With the Consumer Electronics Show just a few hours away, the parade of tablets aiming to knock Apple's iPad off its perch is lining up. The rub: These tablets will live and die based on the quality of Google's latest release of Android, dubbed Honeycomb.

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CES 2011

With the Consumer Electronics Show just a few hours away, the parade of tablets aiming to knock Apple's iPad off its perch is lining up. The rub: These tablets will live and die based on the quality of Google's latest release of Android, dubbed Honeycomb.

Vizio is talking tablets. So is Toshiba. Motorola will also be out of the gate strong (right). Samsung will show off new tablets. Google is also highlighting Android tablets. And every PC maker that missed the iPad curve will hop on the tablet bandwagon. Most of these challengers will ride shotgun with Android, an operating system that hasn't been optimized for tablets until Honeycomb.

Honeycomb will land soon enough, but the advance billing---Nvidia  CEO Jen-Hsun Huang gushed about the latest Android in November---makes me wary.

In fact, I can't help but ask the following questions:

  • What if Honeycomb sucks? What if this tablet optimization isn't all that special?
  • What if these tablet makers all cast their bets on Android when they should have diversified?
  • What if the hardware/software integration necessary for a real iPad rival just isn't there?
  • Can Google get a tablet-optimized Android OS right on the first attempt?

In many respects, the tablet market is locked into a PC-type scenario. In the PC market, hardware vendors need Microsoft Windows to be a catalyst. If Microsoft delivers a strong OS like Windows 7 things are swell. If Microsoft delivers Vista, life stinks. In the tablet market, we can just swap out Microsoft for Google. If Android tablets are hot, all is well. If not, you have a lot of clunky tablets out there.

Susquehanna Financial analyst Chris Caso summed the importance of Honeycomb up in a research note. "The tablet market in 2011 depends on Google," said Caso. Caso added:

The current version of Android is Gingerbread (2.3) and does not include any features specific to tablets. Tablet features are expected to be included in Honeycomb (believed to be Android 3.0), which is expected roughly in the March timeframe. If Honeycomb is out by March, we would expect Honeycomb tablets to be available in May/June at the earliest. Given the success of the iPad, we believe both Google and OEMs smartly are reluctant to promote half-baked products. Thus, even though we expect to see some Gingerbread-based tablets at CES, we expect production volumes to be very low until Honeycomb is available. Therefore, the availability of Honeycomb will be a key determinant of the non-Apple tablet market size in 2011.

Related: It's tablet time at CES 2011

Now it's quite possible that Honeycomb rocks and these questions are absolutely crazy. However, the downside here is huge if Honeycomb isn't up to snuff. I've been around long enough to at least ponder the downside of betting big on one OS. A weak Honeycomb will mean that CES 2011 will look just like CES 2010. Devices make their debut and never see the light of day. Tablets can be gussied up with new Nvidia chips, but without a strong OS they're going to be quite lonely at the prom.

Here's a quick look at some of the moving parts should these Honeycomb-powered tablets fail to live up to expectations.

  • Apple extends its lead for another year. We're at a critical juncture in the tablet market. It's early in the game, but if serious rivals don't emerge in the next two quarters Apple will win in a blowout. The iPad's pricing is there. The quality is there. The integration is there. And enterprises straddling the fence will lean the iPad's way if alternatives don't emerge soon. Right now businesses are evaluating the iPad, but also waiting for newcomers to emerge. These companies aren't going to hold their enterprise budgets for another year.
  • Hewlett-Packard could be a huge winner. HP is likely to have a Palm WebOS tablet at some point soon. The WebOS seems suited to tablet use and if it works well HP could emerge as a real rival to Apple.
  • Microsoft could seize the day with Windows Phone 7, arguably the company's best shot at the tablet market. Hell will freeze over before Microsoft stops trying to cram Windows 7 onto tablets, but there would be an opportunity there if Honeycomb stumbles.
  • Motorola, LG, Samsung and a bevy of others will have to evaluate other options. In this scenario, HTC could be a winner since it counts both Microsoft and Google as strong partners.

Topics: Hardware, Android, Apple, Google, iPad, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • What if your hair catches on fire?: Not going to happen Larry

    Nt
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate bit of a tough call that. They do have some good UI engineers working on it but until we know what their plans are to ensure compatibility with older apps and other tablet specific experiences we won't know.

      personally i think this is a really good hypothesis and looking forward to the honeycomb tablet army. here's to hoping it rocks since competition for the ipad is a good thing.
      eddyrox1@...
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @eddyrox1@...

        I see a few things that will help determine the future of Android.

        1) Hardware: Should be flash updateable to the latest operating systems. If my HTC cell phone can be upgraded to the latest versions, my tablet should too. In fact I'm hoping to see HTC in the tablet market.

        2) Hardware 2: Needs to be designed to be more user friendly. By that I mean having to plug in a charger and the tablet just laying around. Tablets should be able to be charged in a cradle facing upright or on a wall where the charging can take place. If they use smart charging technology a tablet could stay on all the time and easily picked up and carried around when wanted.

        3) Interoperability: Big word there but tablets should be able to interface easier with existing home and business networks. My home network has an existing media center but my tablets file manager doesn't allow streaming so I have to download my media files before I can play them. perhaps integrating some cloud technology might help.

        4) Software: there are thousands of applications out there but I don't see lots of user friendly or what I like to call intuitive software, but thats for developers to work on.

        IPad hardware/software is extremely lacking IMO. Android tablets can sieze the marketplace and carve a niche if interoperability is recognized in the design.
        fldbryan@...
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @fldbryan [i]IPad hardware/software is extremely lacking IMO. Android tablets can sieze the marketplace and carve a niche if interoperability is recognized in the design. [/i]

        While I am not discounting if the iPad hardware/software is lacking for your needs but the problem with a statement like that is that it's not lacking for what most consumers need/want which is the majority of the market. Honeycomb could end up sucking but I hope it is great and I hope there are other options that come out to compete with the iPad. Competition is great for all of us no matter what OS you prefer. If Honeycomb isn't as intuitive as iOS then it won't catch on as well is the consumer market as the iPad unless the OEMs can meet a very aggressive price point. It will get a nice market share with the more tech savvy but in the big picture that's a pretty niche market.
        non-biased
    • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate What's not going to happen? Larry catching his hair on fire, honeycomb being a success, or honeycomb being a failure?

      Despite my dislike for Linux I'd like to see Honeycomb succeed - the iPad needs competition.
      athynz
      • From where I come from, we call it 'borrowing trouble'.

        @athynz
        Not a good way to think.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz
      It may be great, but too bad Galaxy Tab owners won't be able to upgrade to it, at least according to reports today...
      rynning
    • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate That prognosis does not bode well for Google then...
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • likely

      @Dietrich

      i think it will be likely that honeycomb will be just average (will not be running on existing android tablets, ouch galaxy tab) and will not be out until summer 2011. by that time it is already game over in the tablet space. and as some observers have pointed out, there isn't much of a tablet market at all. people don't buy tablets, they buy ipads.

      and i really pity all those clueless hardware makers, unable to come up with their own OS, totally at the mercy of the mother of perpetual beta and "i will sell your personal data to the highest bidder because that is how i make my money" data kraken.
      banned from zdnet
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @banned from zdnet
        So if Honeycomb is a failure because the hardware makers are at the mercy of Google, how then was the PC so successful? Was it IBM and/or Intel setting a more rigid standard, or Microsoft delivering on its promises, or both? This time Microsoft is taking a much more Apple-like approach with Windows Phone as much as it can, probably based more on its experiences with Windows Mobile than just trying to copy Apple's success. I wonder if the Android team has any former MS employees experienced in these kind of vendor-relationships...
        rynning
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @rynning He said he pitied the hardware makers being at the mercy of Google, not that Honeycomb's success or failure had anything to do with it.
        non-biased
    • RE: hair catches on fire

      go to youtube, type in hair on fire. It can happen.
      Info-Dave
  • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

    it is extremely unlikely Google will get the Honeycomb wrong due to the following reasons.
    1. Even on the half baked Froyo, android had proven to possess huge opportunities to be a worthy competitor to iPad. ( see samsung tab)
    2. The requirements for a consumption focused os isn't all that complicated as compared to traditional desktop and notebook creation focused os. Google has proven that they know the game by going head to head with apple in the mobile phones arenas.
    3..Google (as with Microsoft) understands the stakes involved if they do not release a worthy competitor to iPAD. It's unlikely they will allow the company to screw up on honeycomb .
    Chih
    Chih
    • For sure, MS and Google are throwing every resource possible at tablets

      right now. iPad will dominate in 2011 though.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @DonnieBoy dominate yes.. but after the first half the enormous growth rate might start to shift. if anyone out there comes up with a better priced tablet and the right features it could see a serious shift in tides. but yes. seeing that the ipad 2 could also be around the corner.. the ipad is going to continue to see a phenomenal growth throughout 2011.
        eddyrox1@...
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @eddyrox1@...

        I think it will take more than the usual "better prices" and "more features" for others to truly compete against the iPad. This is where I like to point out another extremely successful Apple product (iPod) that competed against a whole host of PMP's with better prices and "more features" for a decade, and won. The key feature there and the reason they were successful was the strong ecosystem built up around the iPod, and the strong marketing. Now Apple already have a huge head-start from the iPod/iPhone success. The most content (iTunes, apps, the # 1 music store, audiobooks etc) all syncing from one place; abundant accessory and after-market products; the best service/support; one-click easy purchasing and billing. Geeks may not view this as important but geeks are a small niche when compared to the wider gen consumer. And just like with the iPod, Apple is not necessarily going after the geeks but the wider gen consumer market. It's the cohesive ecosystem competitors needs to compete with as MS has learned with the Zune. Not a feature spec sheet.

        I think Amazon have about the best chance at going head-to-head with Apple if they ever releases a tablet with their large content catalog, and all around consumer friendly ecosystem.
        dave95.
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @Dave95

        I have an iPad and as soon as there is a good Android tablet, I will sell this iPad in a heartbeat. It just pisses me off that about 50% of the time I cannot view a web page because of Flash so I have to get out my laptop to look up what I wanted. All the apps are of no need to me and the fact that you cannot print from it makes it useless. Yes the battery life is great and the screen is very nice, but as soon as I can get an Android tablet with Flash and printing, the iPad is gone.
        msprygada
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @msprygada

        Sounds to me like one of two things, either somebody really needs to do research before purchasing or you don't have an iPad and are just going down the list of talking points Apple haters use.

        1. Why would you buy a product that is widely known to no support flash if, based on your statement of not being able to view "a web page", every page you want to visit uses flash?

        2. Why would you buy a product that you would expect to use apps from the App Store on without first seeing if there were apps that were of any use to you?

        3. Since there are no apps on your iPad and you can't even get to a web page, what exactly were you hoping to print in the first place?
        non-biased
    • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

      @Chih

      I agree about Froyo demonstrating that Android can work just fine (I use it daily on my phone).

      There is a possibility that an absurdly large market for (cheap) tablet computers will develop. If it does, it probably will be around Android (any version after 2.1) or Chrome or some flavor of Windows (seems less likely). It would need to be very inexpensive, but something like this could really be a game changer.

      All the device needs to do is deliver three killer apps - email, browser, ereader. Anything else it does is a bonus.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • RE: CES: Tablets aim to challenge Apple's iPad, but what if Android 'Honeycomb' sucks?

        @Schoolboy Bob
        What you are saying is a truism. Yes, there is a market for very cheap products that have "killer" apps, features, hardware, etc. Problem is, those products don't exist in the real world, especially in the mobile space where issues of weight, battery life, power, size, cost and durability pose serious problems.

        The fact that the SamsungTab cost more than the iPad--with twice the screen size--shows you how far behind the curve the Android OEMs are. And WM7 slates aren't even in the race because they are joined at the hip with Intel's underpowered, overpriced, battery-sucking mobile chips.

        The iPad 2 will make the gap even more apparent.
        Synthmeister