It looks like Google spent a lot of time brainstorming with Honeycomb and the results speak for themselves. With a bevy compelling features like the new holographic UI, richer widgets, better notifications, multitouch gestures, hardware-accelerated 2D/3D graphics and the new Android Marketplace; Honeycomb has a lot going for it. The level of polish that Google has achieved with Honeycomb is quite commendable. The UI effects and transitions are silky smooth; switching between home screens, moving widgets, scrolling though lists is lag-free and can easily rival iOS’s traditional advantage in this regard. The new updated native apps make excellent use of the screen space and the multi-paned fragments framework coupled with the new Action Bar make workflows throughout the OS very efficient. The new “Renderscript” graphics engine looks amazing in the YouTube and Music Player apps and offers developers a chance to create even more engaging apps in the future. To be quite honest, after looking at Honeycomb in action, iOS looks like it might need a facelift real soon.

The real advantage for Honeycomb is the aggressive adoption of next-gen SoC platforms by manufacturers. Motorola, Samsung and LG already have tablets with blazing-fast dual-core SoCs from Nvidia, Qualcomm, TI and Samsung. Additionally, manufacturers have gone above and beyond to differentiate themselves from the iPad with much demanded features like SD card slots, USB ports, HDMI output and dual cameras with support for 1080p video recording. Ambitious players like LG are jumping on the 3D bandwagon with stereoscopic cameras for 3D video recording with their Optimus Pad. These features not only appeal to a broad spectrum of customers, but more importantly, create a market where people have compelling selection of tablets to choose from. If Google plays their cards right, Android has the potential to quickly become a force to reckon with in the tablet market.

My Concerns

Android is no stranger to platform fragmentation. The division of the OS into separate releases for phones and tablets has the potential to further exacerbate this issue. To add to the problem, it was believed that Google would have some minimum system requirements for Honeycomb, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. In a bid to cater to more diverse price points (just like with handsets), some Honeycomb tablets could potentially compromise the fluid user experience that you’d get on a tablet based around the Tegra 2 for instance. Also, there’s no word yet on whether Google will allow custom UIs with Honeycomb. As we all know, custom UIs have traditionally been the cause for delayed OS updates on several Android handsets. Although a lot of handsets now run Froyo, the Nexus S is the only handset officially running Gingerbread. Its almost been two months since Gingerbread was released, and even the Nexus One is yet to receive an official update. Google therefore needs to work more closely with manufacturers to ensure updates get pushed to devices in a timely manner.

Additionally, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding how exactly some of the new features in Honeycomb would eventually transition down to phone versions of Android. Google has been mildly successful at decoupling some core OS apps such as Maps as standalone downloads, but that still hasn’t completely mitigated the problem.

As I mentioned earlier, Google’s solution to this problem is Ice Cream; the next release of Android aimed at establishing a feature set parity between tablet and phone versions of the OS. Again, we’re not exactly sure about the timelines (although Mr. Schmidt did mention a 6-month release cycle) or the exact features that will make the cut in the next release. However, we can be reasonably sure that many of the under-the-hood enhancements like an updated Dalvik VM, support for multi-core SoCs, 2D/3D hardware acceleration and compatibility with apps written for Honeycomb should make the cut.

When I look at some of the decisions that Google has made with Android, it seems the platform lacks a logical progression from one release to another. For example, Gingerbread completely changed the look of the OS to a more darker and boxy UI. While the rationale behind the darker UI was justified because of potential power savings on AMOLED screens, a similar justification cannot be found for the latter. The Honeycomb UI is a far more drastic departure; thankfully its changes look to be functionality driven given the unique set of requirements a tablet poses. Constant changes to the Android UI do detract from its ability to establish a recognizable identity in the market.

Price is another issue if Honeycomb tablets need to stay competitive in the market. While more expensive tablet price points are tempting, a major strength of Android has been its ability to hit lower price points. For Honeycomb to be successful we need to see tablets priced at an iPad-competitive $499 in addition to the more expensive options we've been hearing about.

Application & Under the Hood Updates
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  • GotThumbs - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Disappointed that there was not even a brief mention of Notion Ink's ADAM tablet. This product is already in the hands of a select group of consumers and will be updated with Honeycomb in the future. It has two USB's, a mini USB, HDMI, SD card slot, SIM slot and runs on an NVIDIA Tegra 2. The price points are extremely competitive in my opinion and once they ramp up their production capability even more and get a distributer specifically for the US.....they WILL BE a force to be reckoned with in the developing tablet market.
  • TareX - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    The Adam's UI is complicated and non-intuitive, it also looks bland and amateurish.

    The hardware is pretty ugly, especially that oversized bezel.

    I think the two only good things about it are the Pixel Qi screen, and the swiveling camera.
  • RHurst - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I'd like to see Adam running Honeycomb. What I really need is an usb host capability, and Adam apparently has that, and only it.

    Also the Pixel Qi is awesome. But I don't know if the Adam has the new, updated 10.1 Pixel Qi with the better viewing angles.

    I also think the Motorola/Honeycomb UI is TOO DARK to use outdoors. Not enough contrast in the buttons, menus, etc. Black or dark outdoors = mirror. You can't see a thing.

    Can't wait for the first review. You have it to take it to the beach and see what you can read.
  • ICBM - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Interface looks great, but until we get the valley girls away from thinking Apple is the best, ipad will probably hold sway. Apple really broke the mold with iphone, from an interface standpoint. That is what helped them to become popular, along with their all the "cool" people have Apple image. Google or someone else is going to have to make a similar huge leap in the tablet space to knock Apple out. I don't think we will see Apple change anything since the iphone and ipad are essential the exact same interfaces as the original iphone, and they still sell like hotcakes. iOS is boring and blah now, but that isn't what is selling products. The "in" thing is what is selling things, and right now, unfortunately, that is Apple.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Looking at the Xoom, where do these people get off charging $800-$1200 for a device that should have a bill of materials under $300?
  • wyvernknight - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Apple can price at $500 because they receive revenue from app purchases etc. Android tablet makers don't have that same advantage.
  • Jumangi - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Apple makes a profit on every iPad they sell, even the $500 one. They do not subsidize hardware.
  • RHurst - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    Everywhere I go people say it's not the case. Apple just buys large quantities and profits from that.

    If anything, after dropping 7.8Bi into Samsung, I think Apple is going to surprise people with even better prices. It also requested 60Million LCD from LG. I think the economies of scales are huge.

    Now if you can backup your claims, I'd love to hear othewise.
  • kmmatney - Monday, February 21, 2011 - link

    I think his claims are pretty obvious, and don't need much backing up. Apple makes money on all App purchases - no proof needed. I don't think the other manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola, ViewSonic etc. make much or any profit from App purchases. So that's an advantage Apple has right there.

    It would be interesting to hear the average amount of Apps purchased from each iPad sold.

    I don't doubt that Apple makes a profit even on $500 iPads, from the huge manufacturing volume they have, but they also make a lot on App purchases, and the new subscription service they offer will make them even more profit.
  • michael2k - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - link

    Apple's quarterly report very clearly indicates that software sales is pretty low on the totem pole, however:

    $1.4b from all iPad, iPhone, music, and movie sales
    $4.6b from iPad and accessories
    $10.4b from iPhone and accessories

    If the iTunes store is split 50/50 between media and apps, that means $700m for apps. If apps are split 50/50 between iPad and iPhone (fewer iPads, but more expensive apps), that means only $350m for the iPad. Among the 7.3m iPads, that's only $47 in apps per iPad. Across the 15m iPads sold since April, thats only $24 per iPad.

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