Can Honeycomb tablets gain ground by being "just as good" as iPad?

In the tablet game, Google needs to make sure that the Honeycomb experience just as good as iPad - and even better in some metrics.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

The Google executives were still on stage at the Android Honeycomb event yesterday when a reader of our live coverage chimed in to respond to some chatter about Honeycomb not offering anything to make it better than the iPad. His comment was simple but it stuck with me. He wrote:

If it's as good and not Apple, I'm fine with it.

Clearly, this reader isn't a big Apple fan - so he has other motivations. But that got me thinking about whether the Motorola Xoom - the first tablet to be powered by Android 3 (aka Honeycomb) - needs to actually be better than the iPad. Is "just as good" enough?

After all, being "just as good" as the iPhone is how I initially saw Android smartphones. Don't get me wrong. The iPhone is an amazing product and one that I wanted desperately - but wasn't willing to do the AT&T thing. Now, I'm a big fan of the Android OS and have no desire to switch to the iPhone, regardless of which carrier it's on. Never do I feel like I'm compromising my smartphone user experience because my device is powered by Android instead of Apple's iOS.

Now that we're moving into tablets, it needs to play out the same way. Google needed to make sure that the Honeycomb experience would be just as good as the iPad experience - and from what I've seen it is. And, based on some of my own personal metrics, it's actually better.

Flash is still a big deal. Android tablets will run Flash while iPad doesn't. And as much as Steve Jobs wants all of us to hate Flash as much as he does, it really does make me stop and pause. Flash exists in my world and I can't just not have it - especially in a tablet.

The same goes for expandable storage. I never liked that Apple prices its devices - all of them - based on storage capacity. I love the microSD card in my Android phone - that's where I store my music and photos. And with Xoom coming in with 32 GB of internal storage and the ability to expand to 32 GB more, it's a one-up over the iPad.

Still, none of that matters if Google and partners don't get the pricing right.

We still don't have any pricing information for the Xoom. If Google or the partners don't come in lower than the iPad, then it's going to be an incredibly tough sell. If this experience is the same and the pricing is the same, then they've just handed the people who were on the fence over to team Apple. After all, the iPad is already a proven winner. Why would anyone pay the same money for a crapshoot that might or might not live up to the hype? I cannot overstate this: Pricing is key.

Certainly, the forthcoming release of iPad2 will be something to watch, especially if there are significant changes to the device or software. But if Google can build a following with tablets the way it has with smartphones, it can be go head-to-head with Apple - forcing both companies to compete on innovation, as well as pricing.

And when that happens, the consumers - all of us - are the ones who win.

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