Friday, September 17, 2010

Not much on the Android tablet front for this holiday season?

Two pieces of news point provide some insight into the timing of the next major release of Google's Android, and its impact on Android tablets for the coming holiday season. Yesterday, Samsung formally announced that all four major U.S. mobile carriers will sell the Galaxy Tab in the U.S., starting before the end of the year. However, the company said that the Galaxy Tab will ship without 4G support and will not work as a phone. Today, Motorola announced in the Wall Street Journal that it will delay introduction of its first Android tablet until next year.

Let's put these two announcements in perspective: Google has said that the current version of Android, 2.2, also called Froyo, is not appropriate for tablets. While Google will approve access for devices to its Android Market on a case-by-case basis, the company has called for tablet vendors to wait for the release of Android 3.0, also called Gingerbread. Motorola Co-CEO Sanjay Jha seconded Google's recommendation, saying that he doesn't believe that Froyo is appropriate for tablets and that Motorola will wait to release its tablet until Android is ready.

In yesterday's announcement, Samsung said that while the Galaxy Tab will run Froyo, it has written apps specifically for the device to take advantage of its capabilities. Samsung warned that most existing Android Market apps won't run properly on the Galaxy Tab.

Consider one additional item: Verizon is launching its LTE 4G service in 30 cities in the U.S. before the end of the year, and Motorola was widely reported to be supplying a tablet for that launch. Therefore, there was an assumption that Google would release Gingerbread in November. However, we now know that the Motorola tablet won't ship until 2011 and that Samsung won't support 4G in the Galaxy Tab when it ships later this year.

Put it all together, and it's fairly clear that Gingerbread won't ship until 2011. That means that all of the Android tablets that ship this year will be using an operating system unsuited for tablets, and will have limited or no access to the Android Market. For these reasons, I believe that the forecasts for big sales of Android tablets this holiday season are going to have to be scaled back considerably.

Apple will continue to have a largely open field, unhindered by significant competition, until next year. I have no idea if there's any truth to the rumors that Apple will launch a 7" iPad in time for the holiday season, but if they do, it will only add momentum to Apple's tablet business and push competitors deeper in the hole for 2011.
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