Nobody cares about Honeycomb tablets, not even Google. It’s all about Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

It’s been what, almost 6 months since Motorola Xoom – the first Android Honeycomb tablet- shipped? We now have Honeycomb tablets from Acer, Asus, LG and Samsung.

None of them could make even a dent in iPad’s dominance.

And Honeycomb tablets won’t make a dent. Ever. Because Google itself does not really care about whether Honeycomb succeeds in the market or not- Android 3 wasn’t meant to do do that. It was just a placeholder until Google finishes forging it’s real weapon in tablet wars – Android 4/Ice Cream Sandwich.

The whole situation with first Android tablets strongly reminds me of Google’s first steps in smartphone market with Android 1.x in 2009.

Back in 2007 Apple invented a new kind of mobile computing device – iPhone. They called it smartphone, but I think it is a mistake to lump Apple’s new device into the same category as the phones people were calling smart before 2007. With iPhone, and especially with it’s next generation iPhone 3G – Apple has created a completely new category of mobile computing devices, and a new market. Still, for the purpose of simplicity, in this article, let’s call the iPhone – a smartphone, and smart devices that came before it – just mobile phones.

The new smartphone market was expanding rapidly and Apple completely dominated it in 2007 and 2008. For the first two years, nobody was able to offer any viable competitor to iPhone.

Looking at a new mobile computing/smartphone platform that Apple has created, Google saw a strategic threat to it’s core business. Even though Google apps like Search and Maps were featured prominently on iPhone, there was nothing to prevent Apple from switching to competitors like Microsoft’s Bing at some point in the future. And leaving Google on the sidelines of rapidly expanding mobile market.

Reacting to a new threat posed by Apple, in 2007/8 Google scrapped it’s previous Blackberry like Android efforts, and started working on iPhone alternative. Google had to put something in the market as soon as possible to get developers and other partners interested.  That something came in the form of HTC G1/Dream with Android 1.0 , which shipped in late 2008. But when G1 started shipping , the new Android 1.0 OS running the device was still a work in progress, not a finished, market ready product. It was extremely buggy, had poor UI and lacked some essential functions – like SD card support. Even Andy Rubin admitted that Android running on G1 wasn’t actually worthy of a 1.0 version number.

Situation improved a bit with the release of Android 1.5 Cupcake in May and 1.6 Donut in September. More and better Android phones started appearing on the market – HTC Magic, Samsung Galaxy i7500, HTC Hero, Motorola Cliq. But Android 1.x was still a half baked product, with a pretty bad usability and little customer appeal. New Android device activations were stuck at a 30K a day level – a run rate of less then a million of Android smartphones a month, and well below the number of iPhones shipping at that time. Developers also did not care much for Android, mostly preferring to focus their efforts on making it in Apple’s Appstore, with Android as a distant afterthought.

This lackluster Android performance continued while we  had only Android 1.x devices available.

But Google did not care much about how Android 1.x was doing. They got what they needed from it – a foothold in the market and real world use data to work with. Even in early 2009, when Android Cupcake/Donut updates were still underway, Google’s eyes were already on the main prize – Éclair -the second generation of Android. I’ve been going through my archives and stumbled on these musings about Android by Eldar Murtazin, from Mobile World Congress in February 2009:

Android is pretty well stuck right now, because of Google, which does not really want to strongly promote Android devices yet. They have a key partner – HTC – which already released/announced phones (Dream, Magic) based on Android 1.0.

The first release of Android OS – it’s Google making a claim for the future position in mobile OS market. It is more like a marketing tool to train the public on Android and also to give the developers a live device to make the apps for. Though there will be some interesting new Android devices coming from HTC and others later this year.

Android 2.0 looks pretty sad. Android won’t get to the level Google and partners want to see it on until releases 3.0 and 4.0. It has multiple partners working on Android 3.0 devices and there were some demos of the handsets with Android 3 in closed showrooms. They look fantastic. The problem is that Android 3.0 is not slated for release until the mid of 2010, with version 4 to follow in 2011. So it will be a while until Android devices reach their full potential.

Remember, we are talking about February 2009 here. The only Android device that was shipping then was HTC G1/Dream. Replace those version numbers – 2 with 1.5/1.6 and 3 with 2.1/Éclair – and Eldar pretty much nails it. (Well, there’s no original Droid and Nexus S mentioned, but there’s only so much you can learn 9 months out in the tech industry).

Google never really cared much about promoting any of it’s Android 1.x devices. The prize and main effort was always Android 2.

Google started with the unfinished Android 2.0 Éclair version on the original Verizon Droid, with a huge U.S. promotion campaign. Big G even thought that with Android Éclair on Nexus One, they can get into mobile phone business themselves, and  got slapped hard by mobile carriers. But the real worldwide Android explosion happened in Q2/Q3 2010, when second generation Android devices like HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy S started shipping en masse.

And what do we have today with Android tablets? The action is unfolding pretty much the same as it did in 2008/2009 for smartphones.

With iPad launch in early 2010, Apple invented/created and now owns the new, rapidly growing portable post PC computing market . After seeing iPad, Google dropped whatever plans they had for the next generation of Android OS in early 2010, and refocused it’s efforts on creating a tablet OS of their own. The time was short and they had to “take a few shortcuts”, like dropping any smartphone support from Honeycomb, thus radically forking Android for at least a year. Then Google rushed to market with half baked Android 3.0/Honeycomb on Motorola Xoom, and are now doing small tweaks/incremental patches with Android 3.1 and 3.2.

And, just as it happened in 2009 with Android 1.x smartphones, nobody except tech press seems to care about Android tablets. It’s all iPad all the time for average Joe. According to some estimates, almost 6 months after launch – there are only 1.21 million of Android tablets in customer hands. Android developers are not too impressed either, with very few of them bothering to rewrite apps to run on Honeycomb, while iPad apps are growing like crazy… But that’s ok.

Consumers and developers do not care much about Android Honeycomb, and  neither does Google. In 2011 Google is just staking it’s claim, warming up for a real fight over the tablet market. The real fight that will start late this year or early in 2012, when the fourth generation of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich, is released.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will again unify two separate forks of Android, by enabling Honeycomb based UI/OS to run on smartphones. Next year all Android flagship handsets will be launching with Ice Cream Sandwich, and the number of Android 4.0 devices will skyrocket. So all Android app developers will have to rewrite their apps for Ice Cream Sandwich phones. For many of them, only small additional effort will be required to make those same apps run natively on Android 4 tablets. Thus quickly solving the App draught problem current Honeycomb tablets face.

And then it will be up to Google and it’s manufacturer partners to create Android tablets that can finally pose a real challenge to iPad dominance. Will Google succeed, with Android tablet sales exploding in 2012, like smartphones sales did in mid 2010? Who knows. Based on Google’s past record – I’d say they have an extremely good chance. But it’s very dangerous to project past performance into assured future success. Competitive dynamics are very different every time.

E.g., in tablet market, there is one key force missing, that played a huge role in success of Android smartphones. Mobile carriers. Tablet market is much more like a PC market, and carriers have very little influence on consumer choices there. So they won’t be able to provide any real boost to Android tablet sales. On the other hand, Google’s PC manufacturing partners are now even more desperate to create a viable iPad alternatives, then mobile vendors were to get something to to compete against iPhone back in 2009. Someone of them may succeed.

The only thing I can promise you now, is that the fight over the tablet market in 2012 should be no less interesting then what is happening with smartphones today.

 

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • vdpluijm

    I think you are right.  Still fun to be an early adopter of an Android tablet (Asus TF), as long as you don’t entirely rely on the device.

  • vdpluijm

    I think you are right.  Still fun to be an early adopter of an Android tablet (Asus TF), as long as you don’t entirely rely on the device.

  • gerrr!

    Xoom – 5 months for Verizon’s 3G (Feb 24), 4 months for the WiFi version (March 27).
    Total number of Honeycomb tablet models = 5 (Motorola Xoom; Asus Eee Pad Transformer – March 30; Acer Iconia Tab – April 30; Samsung Galaxy Tab10.1 – June 8; Toshiba Thrive – July 10)Total Android tablet market is much larger than just Honeycomb.  Per Strategy Analytics: http://goo.gl/GC05L

    You spend so much time putting down Google / Android.  Why?

  • gerrr!

    Xoom – 5 months for Verizon’s 3G (Feb 24), 4 months for the WiFi version (March 27).
    Total number of Honeycomb tablet models = 5 (Motorola Xoom; Asus Eee Pad Transformer – March 30; Acer Iconia Tab – April 30; Samsung Galaxy Tab10.1 – June 8; Toshiba Thrive – July 10)Total Android tablet market is much larger than just Honeycomb.  Per Strategy Analytics: http://goo.gl/GC05L

    You spend so much time putting down Google / Android.  Why?

  • Arnold_Buffett

    Google Android smart devices (mostly smartphones now) EASILY OUTSELL ipod touch+iphone+ipad+Apple’s agressive marketing+the way Apple controls media resources on the internet.

    It’s NOT Apple sold 9.25 million ipads in the most recent quarter, it’s their news-reviews-social partners on the internet sold 9.25 million ipads! They almost killed NEW(!!!) specially created for tablet computers Android 3.0 Honeycomb and were still incredibly excited about ‘smoothness’ of 4-year old!!! and just scaled iphone OS (ios) on ipad! It’s not a honest behavior! Google is open. Android is open. Google isn’t afraid of media bullshit. Apple is.

    But Google doesn’t control what internet-based biased paid resources right about Android. Apple controls this for them.
    Waiting for awesome unified Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich for all smart devices!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-Mc/100001605142837 Thomas Mc

    This article bought and paid for by Apple, Inc.

  • http://www.theandroidsoul.com/ Kapil

    Oh! you’re pathetic. I didn’t even care to read the full post after I got the same staska’s-android-rant feeling in this article too. I’ve been following your blog — despite it’s terrible design — for almost 3 years now and have been hearing your rants on Android’s growth, credibility, competence, etc ever since. I know you still love Nokia and you are maybe the only iSick whose who is the owner of a popular website blog that, very sadly to you, isn’t based on Apple’s product alone.

    But anyways, we’re here and will be here by 2015 by which time I think you’ll get your answer. Android exists to dominate. 

    You may rue about the v3.0 on Android tablets which looks way smaller to you than the 3.1 — that is, not just 0.1 in difference — but the thing is latest Android tablets are available world over — even at those places where the iPad is still not available or the rubbish called iPad 1 is available. Apple’s iPad 2 hasn’t seen the daylight at most of the places where Android tablets — whether running on Android 3.0 or higher — have been improving lives of people looking for the tablet experience. 

    You’ll continue to cry, though. I just know it. 

    P.S. You’re turning into a villain, man. I liked your blog a lot. Anyways, change this design which I’ve been seeing since 2008 even though it feels so 2004. Heck! it’s 2011 !!!

  • http://twitter.com/AVRWC AVRWC

    Well-written article.

    I own a XOOM (got a discounted, refurbished unit from Woot) running Android 3.2 and I couldn’t be happier. In fact, my only source of frustration is my kids begging me for time with the XOOM. I’ve actually promised it to our 8 yr. old girl IF she gets straight A’s in math next year and she’s so motivated, she’s practicing as I’m writing this.

    I am looking forward to v4.0. Once that launches, there’s probably going to be 4 or 5 tablets in our households. And, like Google, I don’t care one bit whether there are 1.2 or 12 million Android tablets out there. All I care is that my own justifies the money I spent on it. 

    As for Apple… how many people actually pay the jailers to see themselves chained? Lots of them, apparently. And, once again, why should I care?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamie.arellano Jamie Arellano

    Some of these comments sound like this is an anti android article. I have been developing on android since version 0.9 – emulator only. He is right on on where the state of the market is in comparison to the first year of android on phones. Tablets actually have a better start against the iPad than phones like the G1 had against the iPhone. Apple is poised to be a niche market for both phones and tablets no matter how you look at it. One OEM can not compete against all of the others combined. When I got into android the prediction was that it would overtake iOS by 2013. It took less than half that time. 

    Posted from my mac so don’t call me anti apple either.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Oh c’mon Kapil,

    Do you know that commenting on the article without even reading it, can make you look really stupid? Which it did this time. 

    You think this article was about why Android tablets have no chance against iPad because Android 3.0 was buggy? Ha. If you bothered to read it, you would have noticed that it was completely the opposite – that next year Google has a really good chance to repeat with tablets what it did with smartphones last year. And that just like with Android 1.x smartphones, with Android 3.x tablets Google didn’t even start playing yet, it’s just warming up.  

    The real fight in smartphones, which Google is winning by a wide margin right now, started with the release of Android 2.x. The real fight in tablets will start with the release of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich – which will work on both smartphones and tablets. Which will make the sales and share of Android 4 devices to skyrocket, and most of the apps will be upgraded to run on Android 4. And most of those apps will work on tablets, solving the app problem Honeycomb has right now, very fast. 

    Yeah, I guess I’m a villain, and this was just one more of my crying articles….   

    Ps. Yes, I know and agree on design thing. Was planing to do smth about it earlier this year, but Google Panda update messed things up a lot, so it’ll have to wait now     

  • SteveJobsIsOverated

    What is the point of this article?  Are you an Apple fanboy? Is this just to state your lame half-baked opinions?
    The reason the iPhone DID and the iPad does outsell Android, or any other phone for that matter is because the average Joe is ignorant when it comes to technology. People buy iPhones/iPads because they think they are cool and the status quo.  iOS is indeed currently more polished but that’s because its so damn simple.  It doesnt offer any type of substance what so ever.
    Android OS is and will be way better of an experience if only people were followers.
    I pick up the iPad and play around and I am already board.  It’s a lard iPhone.  Theres nothing to keep me interested.  It’s a screen with a recently added background image with a list of apps. THATS IT!
    I pick up an Android tablet (half baked OS or not) and the experience is so rich.  It never gets boring.  There is so much to find and explore.  I still own the original Droid and I am not bored with it.  The only reason i want to upgrade is for more processing power.  I am however extremely bored of my iPod Touch. 

  • http://www.theandroidsoul.com/ Kapil

    Oooops!

    OMG, that was so stupid of me. But at least I finally had my rant for your site’s design heard. Worth the stupidity? Of course, I don’t know.Anyways, I just looked some bits in between the paras and quoted facts and that but you know what, the title itself is a bit upsetting and so is the intro para. So, I guess that impression carried forward. And, agree or not, your explanatory comment above looks better to me than the whole article, which I’ll read only after posting this comment :)

    Looking forward to a great design on UV, cheers!

  • http://www.theandroidsoul.com/ Kapil

    Oh! glad you read the whole article. The title and intro would really anger android loyals.

    Reading it now.

  • http://www.theandroidsoul.com/ Kapil

    Oh! glad you read the whole article. The title and intro would really anger android loyals.

    Reading it now.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Np, it happens :)

    The headline is what it is – it was supposed to be controversial and attention grabbing. But I agree that the beginning was a bit too negative sounding, making some readers jump premature conclusions and stop reading. 

    Fixed that negative 3d paragraph to make it more obvious what I’m getting at in the rest of the article :)

  • http://twitter.com/drumboy_ Aaron H

    This is my 3rd attempt to comment on your piece.  It sounds like as I’ve re-read some of your observations that you’re justifying Google’s use of “Beta” in any and all of their products and that somehow, Ice Cream Sandwich is no longer going to be a beta product because it will unify the platform.  I highly doubt that but I guess we’ll see.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    I’m certainly not trying to justify Google’s use of beta. I’m just observing facts and try to draw some parallels. 

    And it is a fact that all new Android generations shipped as beta on commercial devices. Android 1.0 on G1/Dream, Android 2.0 on Motorola Droid, Android 3.0 on Motorola Xoom. So I expect that Android 4.0 will also be not quite finished when first devices with it ship.  

    But it is also the fact, that Android 2.1 was a robust commercial version of smartphone OS, that was good enough to become an iPhone alternative to those carriers that didn’t have iPhone. And with Froyo and Gingerbread it got good enough to go head to head with iPhone everywhere. 

    And it does not matter if Android 4.0 will be beta not. By 4.1-4.2 it won’t be anymore. What matters is that it will run on both smartphones and tablets, and Samsung, HTC and Motorola will quickly come up with new smartphone flagships that will sell in tens of millions within a few months. This   will make the developers of all those hundreds of thousands of Android 2.x apps rewrite them to run on Android 4.x. Making them available for Android 4.x tablets as well. And solve the biggest problem current Honeycomb tablets have, when compared to iPad – lack of apps   

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    I’m certainly not trying to justify Google’s use of beta. I’m just observing facts and try to draw some parallels. 

    And it is a fact that all new Android generations shipped as beta on commercial devices. Android 1.0 on G1/Dream, Android 2.0 on Motorola Droid, Android 3.0 on Motorola Xoom. So I expect that Android 4.0 will also be not quite finished when first devices with it ship.  

    But it is also the fact, that Android 2.1 was a robust commercial version of smartphone OS, that was good enough to become an iPhone alternative to those carriers that didn’t have iPhone. And with Froyo and Gingerbread it got good enough to go head to head with iPhone everywhere. 

    And it does not matter if Android 4.0 will be beta not. By 4.1-4.2 it won’t be anymore. What matters is that it will run on both smartphones and tablets, and Samsung, HTC and Motorola will quickly come up with new smartphone flagships that will sell in tens of millions within a few months. This   will make the developers of all those hundreds of thousands of Android 2.x apps rewrite them to run on Android 4.x. Making them available for Android 4.x tablets as well. And solve the biggest problem current Honeycomb tablets have, when compared to iPad – lack of apps   

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    I’m certainly not trying to justify Google’s use of beta. I’m just observing facts and try to draw some parallels. 

    And it is a fact that all new Android generations shipped as beta on commercial devices. Android 1.0 on G1/Dream, Android 2.0 on Motorola Droid, Android 3.0 on Motorola Xoom. So I expect that Android 4.0 will also be not quite finished when first devices with it ship.  

    But it is also the fact, that Android 2.1 was a robust commercial version of smartphone OS, that was good enough to become an iPhone alternative to those carriers that didn’t have iPhone. And with Froyo and Gingerbread it got good enough to go head to head with iPhone everywhere. 

    And it does not matter if Android 4.0 will be beta not. By 4.1-4.2 it won’t be anymore. What matters is that it will run on both smartphones and tablets, and Samsung, HTC and Motorola will quickly come up with new smartphone flagships that will sell in tens of millions within a few months. This   will make the developers of all those hundreds of thousands of Android 2.x apps rewrite them to run on Android 4.x. Making them available for Android 4.x tablets as well. And solve the biggest problem current Honeycomb tablets have, when compared to iPad – lack of apps   

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Yes, the point of my article IS to share my opinions. Whether they are lame or half baked – that’s for you and other readers to decide and argue. And for that you have to read the whole article which is very positive on prospects of Android tablets. But it seems you didn’t even try to read it beyond first few paragraphs, before spouting your geek’s indignation for average Joe’s lack of interest in technology. 

    The thing is – average Joe/Jane is 90% of general population, and they have every right to not care about the technology, and they do not. They are certainly not interested in looking deep inside to find substance, and they don’t want to be always searching and exploring stuff. They want the device they just spent $600 on, or signed a two year contract for, to just work. And make their lives easier and more fun, while they go about exploring and doing things they care about (which usually have very little to do with technology). . 

  • http://www.procompare.com/ Laptop Computers

    Just I am getting fuzzed why you are not supporting android, Its a struggling boom!

  • http://www.procompare.com/ Laptop Computers

    Just I am getting fuzzed why you are not supporting android, Its a struggling boom!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K3MVOVHEK4AZY777NI5KWHGL5U David Jenkins

    Hey Staska, how many times have I told you that “it’s” means “it is”, it does not indicate a possessive. Either stop writing or learn something.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_K3MVOVHEK4AZY777NI5KWHGL5U David Jenkins

    Well-written? He uses “it’s” throughout when he means “its”. A fifth-grader knows how to write better than this.

  • http://www.linmob.net EtlamRetep

    Um.. Overall not a bad article but you know, it has some flaws.
    “It was extremely buggy, had poor UI and lacked some essential functions – like SD card support.”
    Just a quote from Engadget´s review of the T-Mobile G1:
    “When you slide up the keyboard you get access to a little door for your microSD card, and the entire back cover comes off to give you battery and SIM access. Nothing notable about any of that (though the microSD slot is incredibly hard to spot). Though it ships with a 1GB card, we tested the device with microSDHC cards to 16GB, and we’re happy to report that they work wonderfully.”

    Just saying. I remember there where issues back then, but some of these already were fixed with Android 1.1. Anyway, let’s hope for a great “Ice Cream Sandwich”!