Honeycomb Better Be Good

By  |  Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 10:21 am

For this week’s TIME.com column–the first, incidentally, to appear on Thursday, our new publication date–I took a look at the tablet-fest that was this year’s CES. There was so much news about entrants new and old that it was impossible to be comprehensive–I understand one commenter’s frustration that I didn’t mention the Notion Ink Adam–but I still think the big development was the profusion of would-be iPad rivals running Android. In a remarkably short amount of time, we’ve gone from one major Android tablet (Samsung’s Galaxy Tab) to so many that it’s tough to keep track of them all. If all these models show up and aren’t flops, Android is going to be the dominant tablet operating system, at least for a while.

As I say in the TIME column, I think that tablet software is more important than tablet hardware: Most of the devices at CES were remarkably similar in every way except for screen size. Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the first truly tablet-friendly version of the OS, is going to play an enormous role in defining all these new tablets. And we still don’t know that much about it.

Google did provide a fairly extensive demo at the show…

…but the Honeycomb tablets I got some hands-on time with–Motorola’s Xoom and Toshiba’s not-yet-named model–didn’t let me try Honeycomb for myself. (The Xoom was running a video loop of the interface; the Toshiba had an earlier version of the OS.)

What we’ve seen of Honeycomb looks pretty good. But I’m still struck by how dependent most of Apple’s competitors are going to be on a piece of software that still isn’t finished. (Sure, it’s a new upgrade to an OS that’s been around for a couple of years, but if it’s not substantially different from the smartphone-centric versions of Android, it’s going to be a major disappointment.)

If the tablet market we end up with consists of Apple competing with a bunch of companies standardized on one OS, it’ll look an awful lot like the PC market we’ve had for eons. But it took Windows a decade or so–and several versions, including the profoundly rudimentary Windows 1.0 and Windows 2.0–to become truly pervasive.

Android is trying to fast-forward to Windows 95-like ubiquity in a matter of months. Whatever happens, it’s going to be fascinating to watch…


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Adam Tablet News Says:

    The XOOM looks really good, and I will probably pick one up, but my Adam Tablet will most likely be my main device as I can use it outside…

  2. Tim Elston Says:

    Notion Ink Adam hardware stands out from all the others with Pixel Qi e-Ink. That's why I waited for it and wouldn't buy anything else on the market or on the drawing board right now. It's going to replace my Kindle as my favored reading device because Kindle does not allow touch zooming of large technical diagrams.

  3. TUBULAR Says:

    Ready to buy the Adam, but will wait for the "backside" pad to be introduced…just hope the "store" will be up and running soon….

  4. davezatz Says:

    I saw a decent amount of tablet hardware variation at CES. Or maybe I saw a lot of tablets in two different categories – quality and crap. Crap was dominated by resistive screens trying to hit low price points.

  5. @cefranco2 Says:

    the OS looked pretty as stated but i think the bigger issue will be diversity in tablet OS's. Andriod is over saturated in the mobile world and Honeycomb isnt going to help that in the tablet world it seems. Homecomb better play the part or else its just another Andriod OS with a skin on it.

  6. Dave Says:

    "but if it’s not substantially different from the smartphone-centric versions of Android, it’s going to be a major disappointment"

    The ipad OS is almost exactly like the iphone OS. Is that a major dissapointment?

  7. Jim Says:

    I'm looking forward to actually getting my hands on a fully functional Honeycomb tablet so I can really see how it operates. Any comment about Honeycomb other is speculative. The tablet manufacturers are pushing Google to finish Honeycomb because they want to sell product. I hope that Google holds them off and delivers a quality product. I believe that most people will be pleasantly surprised with how well Honeycomb works.

  8. Android Reviews Says:

    Honeycomb is pretty stable these days. Works really great on Samsung TAB's and XOOM!