Recent chatter about Android 3.0 being ready for tablets by December, and making its slate-based debut at annual gadget megashow CES, has unsurprisingly caused excitement among those after an open source alternative to the iPad.
HTC, Motorola, Acer and Asus are all said to be readying large-scale devices using the most up-to-date version of the operating system. But Google needs to ensure that every manufacturer is singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to the release of the final tablets.
Mountain View has already said that it’s not comfortable with Android 2.2 being used on tablets, in spite of the imminent release of the Galaxy Tab. This was jumped on by Steve Jobs during his remarkable rant about Android and its failings.
And while the Apple boss’s comments smacked of desperation, they did have a ring of truth. Fragmentation is becoming a massive issue for Google, and tablets, rather than smartphones, are where it can put things straight.
It’s already said that Android 3.0 will be built with tablets in mind. So it’ll need to be strict to ensure things don’t start getting out of hand when the new tablets are unveiled. Obviously OEMs will decide their own schedules, but the last thing Google needs is greater confusion by one company releasing a tab stranded on Android 2.2 with the promise of a ‘future upgrade’ while another is already on the shelves using newer software.
This is exactly the issue it’s facing with the Xperia X10 (and potentially the Galaxy Tab) and is one it can do without. This is even more important when it comes to tablets, as they’re a nascent category, still tightly focused on first adopters, despite the iPad’s rampant success. Gadgeteers will not take kindly to having to wait an age for their tablets to use the latest, greatest firmware.
Tablets using Android 3.0 should be compelled to use the vanilla version of the software, rather than skins which have clearly helped cause delays in getting the latest Android software into the wild.
Word is that 3.0 will utilise a new UI, with deeper Google apps integration. It’s to be hoped this extends to smarter uses of social networking too, hence negating the need for the likes of HTC or Motorola to resort to tweaks which can cause problems for the consumer further down the line.
It’s to be expected that there will be differentiation. That, in part, is the joy of Android when compared to iOS. But it should be clear to OEMs that problems with fragmentation will only continue unless they adhere to more straightforward uses of the mobile OS, eschewing skins and focusing on best-in-class hardware.
Tablets are a great place to start, largely because Google will perhaps now never be able to stop its OS from breaking up and becoming a confused proposition in the smartphone space.