Motorola's new Xoom tablets and the rise of Google Android
THE IPAD may get all the attention, but this week Motorola announced that it too is launching a tablet that’s every bit as slim and stylish as Apple’s best-seller.
The new ‘Xoom 2’ models are significantly lighter and thinner than their predecessor, the original Xoom tablet. Although the specifications elsewhere may not be that different, the cut-off corners of the Xoom 2s give them a distinctive look that could prove a hit with consumers, and which at the very least stands out from the mass of other iPad lookalikes.
The 8” ‘Media Edition’ and the 10” standard model are £329 and £379 officially, which makes them both cheaper than Apple’s £399 tablet, even before any discounts. The 10” model, too, offers improved business features such as access to private networks. As Motorola’s Victoria McManus puts it, “Tablets are quickly becoming a must-have tool for staying connected, getting work done and having fun at home and on the road”.
And there’s evidence, as well, that the focus may finally be shifting away from Apple. At the prestigious Stuff magazine technology awards on Wednesday, it was an Android tablet made by Asus that won Gadget of the Year.
Motorola’s new tablets are the sequels to its original Xoom, which was the first tablet to run Google’s Android software. And while it continues to lack the library of extra apps that Apple offers, Android is fast establishing itself as a platform that software developers have to work on as well. The new version of Android, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, is the first that unites both tablets and phones on a single operating system. For developers, that is crucial.
But while the new Xooms offer a TV remote control built in, just as Sony’s rival ‘S’ tablet does, and are also slimmer than the iPad, there’s still one unfortunate piece of timing: to get them in the shops before Christmas, Motorola has been forced to release the devices using the older version of Android’s tablet software, codenamed Honeycomb. It’s not quite as bad as Microsoft asking you to buy a PC with its old version of Windows, but it’s not going to help sales of the Xoom 2. The Xoom 1, indeed, did not sell in the volumes that the manufacturer had hoped.
It’s a similar story in mobile phones, too: an increasing number of manufacturers, Motorola included, are choosing to release devices using out-of-date software. In all cases, updates are promised in the near future, but so-called ‘fragmentation’ of Android is remains a problem for users as well as for the companies and retailers who want to sell these devices.
The result is that the best hardware on the market is often hamstrung by software that doesn’t do it justice and a corresponding lack of apps. A recent blogger study suggested that manufacturers, up until the middle of last year at least, had been indifferent to making sure that customers were offered the latest operating system. This may sound like a technical difference, but it has a real impact on what you can do with your phone or tablet. And if developers are not sure of who will be able to use their work, they're less inclined to make apps in the first place.
As a consequence Android manufacturers are increasingly forced to rush out new software updates as soon as they can. Google had hoped that this fragmentation problem was being resolved; it would appear that, if only for this current round of releases, the search giant is still struggling to perfect getting its suppliers access to the right software. That’s something even Microsoft never had any trouble with.