Motorola was in an enviable position early this year: rocking its popular Droid phones on the Verizon network and preparing to launch the first Android Honeycomb tablet. The XOOM tablet would not only be first but was being launched in partnership with Verizon. It would be the flagship Honeycomb tablet, meaning Google would throw all of its weight behind making sure Android updates would be flowing like honey. Motorola dished out financial results this week, and admitted that it had shipped (not sold) only 440,000 XOOMs in the second quarter.
In a word, okay two words, poor execution. The XOOM launch fell short for a number of reasons, primarily Motorola's fault but Google and Verizon have to claim some of the responsibility. Prior to the launch of the XOOM Motorola was yelling from the treetops that it would beat the iPad in a number of areas.
First, the XOOM would blow past the iPad due to fully supporting Flash. It would be the first tablet on the market with the real web due to Flash, something the iPad could not and would not do. The problem was that at launch the Flash software wasn't ready yet, and the XOOM could not do Flash at all. It took an update much later for the XOOM to get the Flash support promised in early promotions.
Second, Honeycomb was as buggy as could be, and reviewers trounced the XOOM for crashing and poor performance. Google has to bear the blame for that, as the XOOM was running stock Honeycomb software at launch. It just didn't work well, and the XOOM bore the brunt of that.
Third, Motorola promoted the heck out of the inclusion of a memory card reader on the XOOM, something the iPad lacked. Tablet owners could augment the device memory with standard memory cards and have essentially limitless memory. Unfortunately, Motorola had a difficult time getting this feature to work, and it was a dead component at launch. It took months for Motorola to get this working, leaving the company with a lot of egg on its face.
Fourth, the Verizon promotion of the XOOM was bizarre and obviously didn't help sell the tablet on its network. The ad campaign sent a confusing message to Verizon customers without demonstrating why they should buy the XOOM. Both Verizon and Motorola talked up the future ability of the XOOM to access the speedy Verizon 4G LTE network, which would be possible with a free hardware upgrade coming soon. XOOM owners are still waiting for this upgrade which hasn't appeared yet. It is now expected in September, months after the XOOM hit the market. Competitor Samsung just released a Honeycomb tablet with LTE support, making it to market before Motorola with the flagship XOOM tablet.
Motorola says it expects to ship between 1.3 - 1.5 million tablets this year, a promise that may come back to haunt the company. Its Droid smartphone line has been popular with Verizon customers and others, but having totally fumbled the XOOM launch it's not clear Motorola knows how to sell tablets. Verizon hasn't shown it can sell tablets either, so if Motorola is depending on Big Red it may be in for continued failure with tablets.