Here's a famous quote that sums up the reaction to yesterday's surprise announcement by HP to stop supporting webOS, and, by extension, the TouchPad tablet, as well as get out of the PC business, courtesy of the classic 1968 film, The Planet of the Apes: "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!". We all knew that Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker was a software guy, we just didn't realize that meant he'd pull the rug out from under consumers and do a dramatic IBM-style business shift. At least we can still buy their printers, right? ... Anyone?
This affects me personally, because I was working on TouchPad For Dummies, which would have been my third book for 2011, to go along with the recently released, Motorola ATRIX For Dummies, and the upcoming, My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE. While these events are much bigger than me and others will be affected far more dramatically, I thought I would still give my personal impressions, starting first with a little background on the book stuff, some discussion of the TouchPad itself, and then get a bit more into an analysis of the present situation within the industry.
As I'm sure many of you have seen by now, Motorola's Xoom commercial during the Superbowl attracted quite a bit of attention. For those who don't know, Motorola's Xoom is one of the first tablets to run Google's Android operating system specifically designed for tablets, Honeycomb. Previously, Android tablets were running a version of the operating system optimized for smartphones, not tablets, so the release of a true Honeycomb device is big news in that it's the first real competition for Apple's dominant iPad. Anyway, the commercial is Motorola's send up of Apple's famous 1984 Superbowl ad, which pitted a free thinking Apple against the oppressive dictatorship of IBM. Of course, Apple got the competitor wrong. It wasn't IBM, it was Microsoft, and it almost cost Apple its business if not for an improbable comeback in mobile devices. Ironically, Motorola has similarly misidentified its true competition. It's not Apple, it's other Honeycomb tablets. Just like what happened in smartphones, where Android devices have overwhelmed the market with devices and risen to a position of leadership despite a somewhat fragmented marketplace and at-manufacturer-will upgrade paths, the same scenario is likely to play out in tablets, with Apple carving out a dominant - but not market leading - niche all to itself in the long-term. Priced at $800 with a bizarre requirement for a minimum of one month of 3G data to "unlock" wi-fi, Motorola has seemingly done everything to cripple its otherwise impressive device right out of the gate.
As I've discussed multiple times, I've been practically begging for a Honeycomb tablet to capture my techno-lust before the iPad 2 comes out, but if we're going to see efforts like this in what is already a late bloomer in things like tablet-specific apps and developer support, I'm becoming more and more pessimistic such a scenario will happen. In fact, if these Honeycomb tablets don't start coming out in reasonable quantity and at more attractive price points relatively soon, it will take even longer for them to wrest away Apple's 90% market share in the segment, and we may even be entertaining ideas of not what happened with Apple versus Google in the smartphone market, but what happened with Apple versus everyone else in the portable music player market.
Check out Motorola's Superbowl ad below:
PCMag.com has a nice article by Tim Gideon, entitled, Apple Calls Android Tablets 'Vapor' - and It Isn't Just Hot Air. In it, Gideon makes the point that Apple's recent statements describing Google-based competitor tablets as essentially vaporware - meaning announced but not actually released - are not that far off from the reality. As you know, as a future tablet owner myself, I'm waiting for either the iPad 2 or any type of competing tablet with compelling enough features to lure me away, whichever comes first (or, more correctly, whichever is worth a reasonable amount of waiting time once the iPad 2 is available). The funny thing is, is that as much as the Android platform has its fans - and keep in mind this is coming from a previous iPhone 3G and now iPhone 4 owner - it is not a platform for the faint of heart. Criticize Apple all you want, but the one thing that they provide with their iOS devices (which they no doubt honed from years of similar "snobbery" on the Mac side) is a reasonable sense of cohesion and a reasonable chance that the latest updates will in fact work perfectly fine on your existing device. The downsides of a "walled garden" or not, there is nothing resembling reasonable standardization on the Android side, with some phones getting OS updates and some not, and some phones running, say, the latest games well, and others not.
Of course, the Android platform has many advantages and you would think an avowed tech geek such as myself would favor such an open and flexible platform since I've favored PC's for years over Mac's, but for me, phones, and, yes, tablets, are different beasts. I want them, like my videogame consoles, to just work, with minimal fuss. I don't think it's too much to ask that if I buy an Android device today, that I'll be guaranteed all future updates within a reasonable timeframe after they're available, and that all software will be compatible for a reasonable number of years before I upgrade again. Add to the fact that Android has not adapted well to being directly ported from phones to tablets, and there's no telling if Honeycomb (which IS far more optimized for tablets) will resolve any of the standardization issues, and you can't help but think that Apple's potshot may hold true for quite a bit longer.
Believe me, as a recent Google Chrome convert, I'd love nothing more than to get a Honeycomb tablet as a nice contrast to my iPhone 4, but I have a feeling that for better or worse, my phone will have an oversized i-buddy instead. Hope I'm wrong...
So, what are your thoughts on all of this? Sound off in the comments!