Monday, September 13, 2010

Piecing the Android tablet story together

I'm trying to clarify a few things about Google's plans for Android and what they mean for future devices. I've written a couple of entries about Samsung's Galaxy Tab, a 7" Android tablet that runs Android 2.2, also called Froyo. At IFA, Samsung demonstrated access to the Android Market using the Galaxy Tab. However, reported the following quote:
"Android is an open platform. We saw at IFA 2010 all sorts of devices running Android, so it already running on tablets," said Hugo Barra, director of products for mobile at Google. "But the way Android Market works is it's not going to be available on devices that don't allow applications to run correctly. Which devices do, and which don't will be unit specific, but Froyo is not optimised for use on tablets. If you want Android market on that platform, the apps just wouldn't run, [Froyo] is just not designed for that form factor. We want to make sure that we're going to create a application distribution mechanism for the Android market, to ensure our users have right experience."
The Galaxy Tab runs Froyo, yet it had access to the Android Market at IFA. Other vendors have claimed that their tablets have access to the Market, only to back away from the claim once they start delivering products to reviewers and customers. I find it difficult to believe that Samsung would announce something as important as support for Android Market without confirming it with Google.

The key seems to be that the Galaxy Tab can work as a conventional, albeit huge, smartphone. That's how Samsung can make the Android Market available to Galaxy Tab users. However, if you take Mr. Barra's comments at face value, Froyo isn't optimized for tablets. At IFA, Samsung said that the Galaxy Tab will be updated with Gingerbread, the next major version of Android, when it's available. However, previous experience shows that it can take a good deal of time for manufacturers to update products with the latest version of Android.

The Galaxy Tab might be a safe purchase, but for risk-adverse consumers, the best course of action might be to wait until vendors are shipping tablets with Gingerbread already installed.
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