Although Google hasn't confirmed hardware specifications for its tablet-optimized version of Android (a.k.a., Honeycomb), reports from hardware manufacturers out of this week's Consumer Electronics Show are confirming rumors that Honeycomb will require dual-core processors. This shouldn't be a problem for many of the tablets being announced this week with everything from dual-core Atom processors to Nvidia Tegra 2 chips to Qualcomm's dual-core Snapdragons making appearances.
What about the Samsung Galaxy Tab or those cheap Chinese tablets that tech junkies have grabbed up as disposable iPad alternatives? They're stuck at Android 2.3 if they're lucky enough to get a system update or savvy enough to root the device and upgrade themselves.
The new dual-core chips from Nvidia and Qualcomm, although not widely reviewed or benchmarked (expect that to change as many devices bearing them are being showcased at CES this week), seem to have all the right specs to let Android tablets and high-end smartphones take on the iPad without breaking a sweat (at least in terms of performance). Gaming, 3D, and Flash-heavy websites will all be able to take off with these new processors (and their tightly integrated components from GPS to WiFi).
However, one has to wonder if Android, like many Linux distributions, has foregone lean and mean in favor of rich features and gadgets for consumers. Larry Dignan asked the other day, "What happens if Honeycomb sucks?" Has Google actually pulled a Windows Vista, adding so much eye candy and background nonsense that a dual-core processor is necessary? And will it take a second generation tablet-optimized Android iteration to recover performance?
Unfortunately, although pricing on these new dual-core, Honeycomb-ready tablets will undoubtedly be competitive with iPad, the system requirement will, for now, preclude the cheaper entrants into the market from running a tablet-optimized OS. This won't concern the technorati and early adopters, but tablets have the opportunity to be a serious leveling force in a world that increasingly requires rich Internet connectivity from the palm of one's hand.
Moore's law ensures that cheap dual-core tablets will get here sooner than later, but if Google confirms the dual-core requirement, then it's effectively delaying the transformational effect that really cheap tablets could have in the way we view personal computing.