By Harry McCracken | Friday, September 10, 2010 at 11:25 am
Can Google’s Android power tablet computers that make sense as serious iPad rivals? Sure–but it’ll take more than slapping the OS on a device with a big touchscreen. Google–or somebody–will need to seriously rework Android’s interface so it takes advantage of the extra pixels and real estate on a tablet, just as Apple did when it put the iPhone’s iOS on the iPad.
Two upcoming versions of Android, Gingerbread and Honeycomb, will apparently be built with tablets in mind. For now, the best a hardware manufacturer can do is to put Android 2.2 Froyo on a tablet and tweak it to deal with the new form factor. But Google doesn’t seem to think that’s a good idea: Techradar is quoting Google mobile honcho Hugo Barra, and his implied message seems to be to hold off on buying an Android tablet for now.
“If you want Android market on that platform, the apps just wouldn’t run, [Froyo] is just not designed for that form factor,” Barra said. In fact, Google prohibits the use of its Android Market app store on tablets at the moment–Samsung’s Galaxy Tab apparently gets around this restriction by being, technically, a giant phone rather than a tablet.
The Galaxy Tab will likely be the first semi-plausible iPad alternative–at least in Europe, where it’s scheduled to show up next month. (Samsung hasn’t announced a release date for the U.S.) Samsung seems to have reworked built-in Android apps such as e-mail and the calendar on its own. But Barra is right. The gadget will be hamstrung by the fact that third-party Android apps are designed for undersized smartphone screens, not the Tab’s far roomier 7-incher.
For all the iPadversaries that have already been released or announced, the category is still in a sort of dress rehearsal stage. I’m excited about the potential of a tablet-friendly version of Android, as well as HP’s upcoming WebOS tablet. But we still haven’t seen any concrete proof that any software company except Apple has figured this stuff out.