Tablet makers eye Android screen optimization

Google's Froyo may not be optimized for device screens beyond 5 inches, but industry watchers downplay the limitation and predict the new Android OS will in time support bigger screens.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Tablet makers may be warm to Google's Android operating system (OS), but the OS' inability to scale beyond 5-inch screens works against its favor. Industry watchers, though, note this is just one factor affecting user experience and predict support for bigger screens will come in time.

Peter Borup Jakobsen, director of collaboration architecture marketing at Cisco Systems Asia-Pacific, said Google's latest Android OS version, Froyo, currently only supports screen resolutions of up to 854x480 pixels but it is only a matter of time before the OS will "address larger tablet devices".

This development, he explained in an e-mail to ZDNet Asia, could be achieved via internal software enhancements by Google or through partnership with the larger Open Handset Alliance. The Alliance is a group of 76 technology and mobile companies that have come together to accelerate mobile innovation and offer consumers a richer, less expensive and better mobile experience through the Android platform, according to its Web site.

Cisco announced late June it will be introducing an Android-based tablet device called the Cius, which will target the enterprise space.

Jakobsen added that Cisco's software developer kit (SDK) for the Cius, due to be released "this fall", will address the issue of screen optimization, too.

Jakobsen's optimism for Android OS is reiterated by Bo H. Choi, vice president and head of mobile communications marketing at LG Electronics Asia. In an e-mail, he noted that while Froyo is limited to the stated screen resolution, the company expects newer versions of the Android OS to support higher resolutions.

He pointed out that screen size is but one aspect of the device's usability, and the Android-based tablet that the South Korean electronics giant is planning to introduce will aim to include "innovations that enhance the overall user experience".

Rival PC makers Samsung and AsusTek Computer, both of which earlier announced intentions to bring their Android-based tablets to market, declined comment for the story.

A Google spokesperson declined to address ZDNet Asia's queries about Android's screen limitations, but noted in an e-mail that the OS is a free, open source mobile platform designed to "scale downward to feature phones and upward to mobile Internet and netbook-style devices".

"Based on online speculation", it would seem that the upcoming Android update, Gingerbread, is being designed to cope better with bigger-sized mobile devices, she added. However, she stressed that the company was not ready to comment on Gingerbread and readers should regard the information as rumors until the search giant makes an official statement.

Speculation has been rife that Gingerbread will scale up to an improved screen resolution of 1280x760 pixels and support displays "4 inches and higher". Other features highlighted include recommended hardware requirements of "1 gigahertz (GHz) CPU and 512MB of RAM, according to a blog post by tech Web site Unwired View.

However, Dan Morrill, open source and compatibility tech lead for Google Android, later took aim at the reports. "I love it when people just make stuff up and report it as news", he tweeted on Jul. 2. Subsequently, Morrill added, again on Twitter, that "rumors are not official announcements".

Android versus iPad
Optimization aside, tablet players are confident there will be a market for Android-based devices despite the stellar sales recorded by Apple's tablet device--the iPad--since it was launched earlier this year.

When asked if Android-based slates will be able to give the iPad a run for its money in the fast-growing tablet market, LG's Choi said different users will have different requirements. Citing the education sector as an example, he said tablets powered by Android have the potential to offer a "more cost-effective solution" to meet the sector's needs when compared to the iPad.

He added that the company's tablets will "embrace the open source spirit" of co-development and crowdsourcing to create innovative products that would address specific market needs and drive down user costs.

Cisco's Jakobsen also said the Android OS allows the company to integrate many of its key technologies into the forthcoming Cius and deliver a "new class of business tablet".

According to him, the tablet will bring together Cisco's core expertise in networking, video, virtualization, mobility and collaboration. Examples of these features include interoperability with the company's telepresence and high-definition video applications as well as full encryption for security, IT management for deployment and application access, the executive said.

Earlier, industry insiders ZDNet Asia interviewed pointed out that besides the device's user interface, tablet makers should also identify their target audience, determine the form factor and invest in providing the necessary content ecosystem for users.

Incorporating these key elements in the development and sales of tablet devices will give PC makers a better shot at succeeding in this space, they noted in the article.

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