Honeycomb Hangover: Is Android 3.0 a Bust?

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You can blame the high price. Or that it's heavier and thicker than the iPad 2. Or the lack of 4G at launch. Whatever the reason, according to Deutsche Bank, Motorola has sold only 100,000 Xooms since it and Verizon Wireless debuted the first Android 3.0 (a.k.a. Honeycomb) tablet in late February. Meanwhile, a DigiTimes report claims that Apple sold 2.6 million iPad 2 tablets in the month of March. Yes, all of the above factors come into play, but it’s also very possible that consumers just aren’t excited about Honeycomb.

Acer, ASUS, Dell, HTC, Lenovo, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Toshiba; these are just some of the companies backing the OS Google built for slates from scratch. And if all of them were on sale right now and moved the same amount of units, Google would still be behind Apple by about 1.7 million. In my review of the Xoom, there were a lot of things I liked about the new Android platform, including improved notifications, slick interactive widgets, and tabbed web browsing. However, I also warned that Honeycomb has a learning curve, even if you’re already accustomed to using an Android phone.

Take the home screen on Android 3.0. There’s just a lot going on, with a search box on the top left, the app button on the top right, the menu buttons on the bottom left, and notifications on the bottom right. That’s a lot to process versus the more straightforward iPad, so much so that one colleague sent me the following direct message on Twitter: “I honestly found it one of the most painful experiences of any ‘modern’ device I’ve used in literally years. Terrible is my only adjective.”

I disagree with that sentiment, but I’m also a geek. So it’s not a coincidence that Google’s partners are already looking for ways to make Honeycomb more approachable without skinning it to death. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 10.1 tablets coming out this summer feature the company’s new TouchWiz 4.0 software, which lets you swipe up to launch a set of apps without leaving the one you’re on. Time will tell if users will appreciate tweaks like this or if it just adds to their confusion.

Although there have been reports claiming that Google is clamping down on the customization of its OS, yesterday Google’s Android guru Andy Rubin attempted to put the lock-down speculation to rest. In a blog post he wrote that Google doesn’t “believe in a ‘one size fits all’ solution” and that “device makers are free to modify Android to customize any range of features for Android devices.” But what if customers don’t like what’s underneath the differentiation?

The big question facing Rubin and his team is whether they need to merely do a better job educating users what you can do with Android 3.0 (through tutorial videos, perhaps) or do some serious streamlining. Instead of just iterating software and then letting companies run with it, Google could work more closely with the likes of HTC ahead of the next upgrade to make the UI more user-friendly without sacrificing versatility.

What’s certainly not helping is the number of tablet apps for Honeycomb. At last count there were about 50 of them in the redesigned Android Market, which is pretty pitiful compared to the 65,000 available for the iPad and the 3,000-plus expected for the upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook. There is definitely a chicken-and-egg situation going on here, and the soft sales of the Motorola Xoom definitely won’t inspire developers to jump on the bandwagon.

Right now Motorola is bearing the brunt of the criticism because it was first out of the gate with an Android 3.0 slate. But I guarantee you that everyone else poised to launch their own Honeycomb tablets is feeling a little stung by the Xoom’s reportedly slow start. It’s going to take more than lowering prices to compete with the iPad 2.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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  • Geese Says:

    What tech savy person rates the Xoom as 'a learning curve'? Are you serious? Next quarter they'll release a new Ipad that has Oooooooo a built in HDMI port, then jack up the price for it! Ipad Gen 1 users feel like douches since they finally bout one and now the new one is released with Oooooo cameras! Ipad2 this, Ipad2 that blah blah blah STFU!

  • Ken Says:

    I can tell you the reason I did not buy the Xoom...price. In my case, no tablet is worth $500.00 for what I will use it for. My son bought an iPad2 and is happy with it. But the only reason he got it was because he caught one for $299.00. Otherwise, he said, he would not have given them a second look...because who wants to pay that much for a giant iPod.
    Once the manufacturers move the price to $299.00 they will see a huge upswing in sales. That is one reason that the Nook has taken off, is the price. Sure, it does not have the latest and greatest but it is cheap and can be configured. I passed on the iPad because I already have the newest iPod...and I do not like the way Apple updates their hardware. Apple will leave off hardware to bait you for the next model and that erks me.
    Anyway, instead of paying that much for a tablet I bought a Acer Aspire with AMD's fusion ($329.00). Huge battery life and can accelerate HD movies with a real keyboard.

  • Steve Says:

    I think sales of the Xoom may be low BECAUSE there are more tablets coming out. Over the next 12 months there is going to be more intense competition (and improvements) and the intense competition will mean some very good tablets will come out at prices much lower than the Xoom. Consumers who are not that aware would have purchased the iPad by now, a lot of Android fans are a bit more aware/geeky and I think see the value in holding out for a bit before buying one.

  • peter Says:

    Here's my thing about tablets: It's not something you are going to stare at all day. This is the main reason why iPad is fine for me. The fact of the matter is - I don't use it that much. And that's okay, because I knew that from the beginning.

    Call me a fanboi or whatever, Apple products just works. And I mean that from a sense of I know what to do with it the moment that I pick it up. With android, I do have to go through the 5, 10, 20 minute of tinkering.

    Unfortunately, people ARE judging the other tablets against the iPad. And unless Android is able to grab their attention within the first 10-seconds, you will not be able to compete.

    If I was Motorola, I would have Angry Bird playing as the default demo screen.

  • Sal Says:

    The complaints about icons are just silly. The point of a tablet is to get to applications not sit and look at the home screen all day. However I could see with Android 3.0 not have any applications worth using that users would be spending a long time on the home screens.....

  • Mark Says:

    I have a tegra 2 tab but am waiting to check out the Asus transformer for possible purchase. The tab I have now I love and can't wait to mod it but since I use it for business as a digital dashboard I can't. Checked out the zoom honeycomb is it. The xoom was overpriced and my g-tab beat it in benchmark tests. Not really an upgrade the specs are similar execpt it is running 2.2. Still slick and aesthetically android but not honeycomb. The Asus has better hardware specs then what I have and I love the keyboard concept making it a case and a all in one device. Let's see if it can perform. Tabs are fun and these are just the first Gen androids it can only get better.

    Apple is a 20th century computing device with lazy icons and web pages. I hate the GUI real fisherprice. Giant icons ganged up on a page how original and lazy. The quality of apple apps compared to all other app stores weak and childish. Garage band, they can't be serious.

  • FanoTech Says:

    I would actually buy a honeycomb tablet, the interface looked sleeks and something I could spend hours playing with, but the real killer for me is the price. These companies think they can get away with prices that are higher than the iPads, but in all reality there's too much fanboys going after everything Apple makes for them to consider anything else. Personally I would think that once people saw the flash feature of the Xoom that sale prices would go up because now that you have flash, you could basically do everything you can with a tablet that you could with a PC (web browsing wise), but instead people have actually bindly bought the new iPad 2.

    Just look at the specs, they're nearly identical!!! The short-start of the Xoom has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that Apple has way too many fans going for it. If the companies really want people to start noticing their tablets, they ought to do something bigger to catch their attention. Lowering the prices sounded compelling since the state of the economy isn't so hot.

  • ed Says:

    Beto I agree with you. I also have the wifi only xoom and it is an excellent device. These folks who think it is too difficult must have a serious deficit of some kind (or much deeper problems as you say!). Yes it is way more than a screen filled with app icons (ie ipad ). Flash works great.....lack of functionality? Goldstein doesn't have a clue. I totally love this device and can't put it down.

  • beto Says:

    I am entering this comment from my xoom tablet. I have the wifi only version, and I can only say...FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!
    Please stop talking soooooo much about how difficult it is ...because it is not. In my opinion if you cannot work with a xoom tablet after 10 minutes, then you have much deeper problems. The interface is sleak, fast, user friendly ...I have flash, have USB, 2 awesome cameras, nice video quality, and everyday I get new nice apps in the android market....love it love it love it :-)

  • RickW Says:

    Hey Brian,

    STFU if you don't know what you're talking about. I'm no freaking fanboy. Apples to Apples comparison, the iPad knocks the socks off of any current tablet device. The Ecosystem just works. It talks to my iPhone and my AppleTV without mundane setups. I can control my PC from work with it, edit short films, create slideshows, which I am doing right now as we speak. So if you want to know what all of the excitement is in regards to an iPad, go out and buy one. There are no excuses to make for anything. Flash? You're kidding right!

  • Brian B Says:

    I'm going to buy a Honeycomb tablet, but not for $500+. The people buying iPads are zillions of Apple fanbois who will buy whatever apple sells no matter the price. Everyone competing against Apple needs to realize that they aren't apple. I'm hoping for an Archos 7" Honeycomb tablet for around $250. If that doesn't happen, I'll buy the Nook and root it. But I'd rather buy something with Honeycomb presinstalled and up to the latest specs.

  • Neil Goldstein Says:

    I am tremendously interested in buying a Xoom because it has Flash built in and because it can run on 4G. .... but wait a minute, Flash wasn't ready when I went to buy one, and when it finally was released, I heard it was a faulty Beta version. And wait another minute, 4G isn't available on it yet. So, let's summarize ... Xoom is supposed to be better than the IPad2 because it has 4G and Flash, but then again it doesn't have 4G and Flash. So why in the world would I want to buy it? No wonder Motorola is having problems selling it.

    Put simply, the reason people like me aren't buying the Xoom right now -- despite our interest in the device -- is that it's not a "Xoom"; its a"Xoom-minus" . Once it is a fully fledged Xoom, I will be able to make a comparison and an informed buying decision. In the meantime, I won't. By the way, my reluctance to buy a Xoom until it is fully functional is not driving me to buy an IPad2, because that device will never have Flash or 4G. So, I'm just going to wait and see whether it ever will become the tablet that has been promised.

    BTW, Motorola's delay with full Xoom functionality also has me looking at the Blackberry Playbook. But, it seems that RIM is going to make the same mistake as Motorola. RIM is planning to release it at first without any of the traditional Blackberry email functionality. They promise an upgrade later but require users, in the meantime, to tether it to their Blackberry cellphones if they want to receive mail. My response to this idiotic proposal is the same as it has been about buying a non-4G, non-Flash Xoom. There is no way I am going to buy a device that promises certain functionality until that functionality really is being provided.

    One final observation: I have been considering a workaround to avoid all of the problems I mentioned above: buying a 4G LTE android phone that will run on my carrier, Verizon, plus a WiFi version of the IPad2 or Xoom. With that combo, I could use the phone as a WiFi hotspot (I have an unlimited data plan right now) to run the tablet -- avoiding the fact that the Xoom itself is not readyto run on 4G LTE. The problem with that approach is that the phone I really want to buy is the Motorola Bionic. But Motorola is not releasing it yet. I could try the HTC Thunderbolt as a stopgap. But, with the reported short battery life, I am reluctant to do so. So, the bottom line is that Xoom sales also are being hurt not only by its own lack of functionality, but by the fact that Motorola can't seem to release the Bionic.

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