Apple Calls Android Tablets 'Vapor' - and It Isn't Just Hot
Even as a journalist, it's hard to ignore the palpable excitement in the air at an Apple launch event. Steve Jobs is a showman, true, but I think the real electricity comes from the fact that Apple announces products people buy by the millions—and when the show is over, the press actually gets to look at, play with, film and photograph actual working devices that were, just an hour earlier, not yet officially announced. It's a nice trick—and one Google and Android manufacturing partners are having trouble mimicking.
Regardless of your opinion of the Android platform for mobile devices, there's no arguing the point Tim Cook, acting CEO of Apple, made during the company's earning's call earlier this week: "The next generation of Android tablets, which is what you discussed primarily at CES—there's nothing shipping yet…Generally they lack performance specs, they lack prices, they lack timing, and so today they're vapor."
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Yes, we saw an endless supply of Android tablets from manufacturers at CES, but only one of them was running Honeycomb, Google's tablet-focused, latest update to Android. I use the word "running" liberally when I shouldn't: the Motorola Xoom merely played a video demo. The interface and touch screen weren't ready. Every other tablet, save for the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook (which actually was completely functional, running the BlackBerry Tablet OS, during hands-ons with the press), was running either Android 2.1 or 2.2, neither of which is designed to work on tablet screens.
It may sound like I am being impatient. Has Apple spoiled us with product launches that include actual, functional products to show off? Call me crazy, but that's what I expect: an actual product.
Let's look at the case of the Samsung Galaxy S phones. They were introduced as Android phones that would run 2.2—this was in March 2010. As we approach February 2011, there are no FroYo updates for Galaxy S owners in the U.S., although most other countries' Galaxy S models have been updated. Samsung's response to the rumor that the company would charge carriers for issuing a 2.2 update on their phones came earlier this week, when a Samsung rep wrote Phone Scoop to assure it that the rumor was false, and that they "hope to have more detail on status shortly."
In other words, this is what the evolution of a high-profile Android product might often look like: an announcement one year, and lack of delivery on a promise nearly a year later…and words like "hope." When my landlord "hopes" that he can fix problem with my apartment "shortly," I know it's time to head to the hardware store and fix it myself or accept that "shortly" means either "never" or "someday."
The Motorola Xoom, I have no doubt, will not be vaporous forever—but why do we know about it before it's ready? Why have I held it? An announcement of a product without the actual functioning, ready-to-use product seems premature; a long delay on a promised-and-hyped operating system update seems fishy.
I have been to enough CES press conferences to know not to hold my breath for a product's arrival—many appear only in press releases. But I hold Google (and manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung that get first cracks—with Google's assistance—at making new Android devices) to a higher set of expectations than a start-up. So why are billion-dollar operations fumbling product launches like rookies? The Xoom is not ready. Honeycomb appears not to be ready yet. Motorola's tablet may not be ready before the iPad 2—or whatever Apple chooses to name it.
I review tablets for PCMag, and it's my job to be impartial. I am excited to play with a Honeycomb tablet because the demo looked like a fantastic experience. But the increasing delays for Android devices—be it no 2.2 update for the Galaxy S phones or a non-functional demo unit being displayed at the world's biggest electronics show—is starting to give me pause.
As a Redskins fan living in New York, I have little to fire back with when a Giants or Jets fan mocks my team—after all, those teams are winning, and mine rarely does these days. When Tim Cook fires a "vapor" zinger at the various Android tablets currently—or not yet—out there, Google, Samsung, and Motorola must feel they same way: they have no response that changes the fact that Android tablets have been rolled out in a slow, confusing manner thus far. With February approaching and no working Xoom to show off yet, I can't be the only one who sees potential trouble on the horizon.
Bottom line: if Google wants the Android platform to compete with the iPad and other iOS devices, Google and its manufacturing partners are going to have to start delivering products on time and with the same air of excitement that Apple manages to build consistently at least three times a year. Here's hoping they succeed.