I spent extensive time at my local Verizon store yesterday so that I could get a real feel for the new Honeycomb-driven tablet, the Motorola XOOM. I was able to download some apps, play with the browser, view videos, etc. So after reading and posting a bunch of reviews from other writers, it's time for TNM to weigh in:
The Motorola XOOM is the first real Android competitor to Apple's iPad. I have not been impressed with the Samsung Galaxy Tab, both because of its size (too small to be a true "media tablet") and because of its version of Android.
Having said that. both the XOOM and Honeycomb appear to be a work in progress. Browser crashes, the heavily landscape nature of the tablet, and its lack of native tablet apps will negatively influence the buying decision of many consumers. But if properly, and heavily marketed, the Motorola XOOM could take advantage of its first mover status as the first Honeycomb tablet on the market.
Quite a number of reviews have mentioned that the XOOM will surprise you with its weight, and it's true, the XOOM feels surprisingly heavy. But like the first generation iPhone, I like the weight and feel of Motorola's tablet. But what surprised me was how small the tablet seems compared to the iPad. The XOOM is 9.8 x 6.6 x 0.5 inches according to the Motorola website. The iPad, in comparison is 9.56 x 7.47 x 0.5 -- not much difference, but that almost one inch width difference may prove important to media developers, as I will talk about later.
Spec-wise, the XOOM has many advantages, though most will disappear very quickly when the iPad2 is introduced: both a front-facing and rear-facing camera, stereo speakers, to name just two features.
Like the iPad, the XOOM does not feel cheap, it has a solid, well-built feel to it.
Like other reviews, I can't help but notice that this is a tablet that feels most natural in landscape -- this is the way it was displayed at the store, this is the way it is most often pictured on the Motorola website, this is the way one reads the branding on the tablet itself, and with its connector located where it is, using this tablet in portrait mode would be the exception, not the rule.
But if you are the maker of a replica edition, this would be a nightmare. Magazines and newspapers are, of course, designed in portrait -- to move the tablet terms to print. The Motorola XOOM will let you use portrait, of course, but the fact that XOOM begs to be in landscape only means that it will be even more apparent to users that replica makers are taking a short cut at the expense of the user experience.
Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) certainly feels more at home on a tablet than its predecessors. The "home page" is attractive, and makes Apple's collage of app icons look dated. Apps are located under a button located in the upper right hand corner which brings down the apps. In many ways this is the equivalent of putting applications into a folder like Windows or the Mac OS. As a result, I wonder how well this will work if, or when, the Android platform will be able to offer an extensive selection of natively designed tablet apps -- it can't right now.
For me, the browser was a disaster: it loaded sites slowly and crashed several times. There may have been reasons for this outside of that tablet itself: a slow WiFi connection? a need to reboot the tablet? Who knows, but I was almost as unimpressed with the experience as I was using the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
A aside: TNM on the tab showed up as a mobile site, as you might have expected. Thankfully, TNM's mobile site has a built-in option to view the "desktop" version of the site, but if this and other Android tablets get popular I will definitely have to make an adjustment to make sure tablet users are fed the right website.
Adding apps to the tablet is easy enough through the Android Market. I downloaded and installed the New York Times Android tablet app and was very disappointed to see that it was simply an RSS reader version of the website. Unlike with the introduction of the iPad, the NYT has not pulled out all stops to make sure they had a good app ready to go. Even the NYT support page appears to go to a dead page.
For some consumers the lack of tablet apps ready to go may influence their buying decision. When the iPad was introduced there were obviously few apps available, especially compared to the number available today -- but, of course, it was all alone in the market. Any tablet introduced today, though, will have to deal with Apple's app advantage.
And this may be where Motorola finds itself at a disadvantage: the XOOM comes will all the features and built-in apps you would expect. But unlike Apple, which sees itself as both a hardware and software company, Motorola is not only at a disadvantage in the area of software development, but it also seems to be at a disadvantage in how it looks at launching a tablet.
On my iPad, for instance, is a Netflix app, an MLB app. I'm sure that eventually these will be available for the XOOM, but they are not available now. The MLB app, for instance, is there in the Android Market, but it is obviously designed for Android phones. (In fact, as I am writing this post, I am listening to the Giants playing the D-Backs in a preseason baseball game, via the MLB.com At Bat 11 for iPad app, which is beautifully designed for the Apple tablet.)
Of course, the Android Market itself, does not accommodate tablet apps the way the iTunes App Store does. Tablets remain an after thought.
So will the Motorola XOOM be successful? Don't look hear for an opinion on that -- I won't supply "claim chowder" for anybody. But I do think two things will highly influence the chances of success: marketing and sales (what a surprise that a former publisher would say this).
Ask any Mac users why Windows blew away the Mac and you should get the answer that it wasn't because of quality, it was marketing. Now-a-days, though, Apple spends a fortune pushing its iPhones and iPads. Motorola, and to a certain extent Verizon, will have to compete with Apple both in quality of product and in marketing. In fact, since it is entering the market more than ten months after the iPad launched, it will have to market that much harder.
The sales angle has to do with my experience at my local Verizon store. The Verizon employee was very interested in how much time I was spending checking out the XOOM. We talked for a long time about the tablet, though it was definitely all new to him. Then we talked a bit about the iPad. The sales person was, like many online, obsessed with the issue of Flash, and clearly this was going to point this out as a big advantage. But as I showed him, most sites have already adjusted their video content to accommodate iPad owners. The Verizon person also mentioned YouTubes, assuming that YouTube would be worthless on the Apple tablet. Of course, I then pointed out that the iPad comes with its own YouTube app, plus Google offers its own YouTube app, as well.
But if there are other Verizon store personnel with similar views you can see how this might influence potential buyers. Of course, the fact the store had a dedicated iPad section, while the Motorola XOOM was just one of several "mobile" products on a back display, may also influence sales.
Lastly, a trip to Best Buy yesterday was also interesting as the Apple section was busy, with shoppers looking at the new MacBook Pros -- and, of course, iPads. With the Motorola XOOM right now exclusive to Verizon, this means that Motorola must compete with Apple at its carrier partner's stores, while Apple continues to sell iPads at its own retail stores, Best Buy, AT&T stores, and at Verizon.