LG tablet delay a bad omen for Android tablets

LG might be crazy like a fox for not rushing to market with a version of Android that is not suited for tablet devices.

LG is once again shifting its tablet strategy -- announcing that it is pulling the plug on its Android 2.2 tablet plans to hold out for Android 3.0. Unlike current releases of the Android OS, the upcoming Android 3.0 is designed with tablets in mind. LG's decision suggests that rival tablets based on Android 2.2 may not live up to expectations.

The delay may seem ill-advised given the rush by iPad competitors to get tablets to market in time for the holiday season. After adding both Target and Amazon to its retail distribution outlets, and cranking up supply to meet demand, Apple seems geared up for blockbuster sales of the iPad.

The move by LG also makes it appear somewhat wishy-washy on the whole tablet concept. LG was originally on board to develop a Windows 7-based tablet -- with Microsoft showing off a prototype at Computex. An LG source later told me, though, that the Windows 7 tablet was always sort of a proof-of-concept exercise and should never have gone public at Microsoft's stand at Computex. Apparently, Microsoft was quite eager to show off the Windows 7 device even though it was never approved for production at LG.

Fair enough. I agree completely that it is misguided to attempt to fit the round peg of the Windows desktop operating system into the square hole of tablet computing. The tablet is not simply a different PC form factor, and the culture of mobile computing with tablets makes them much more suitable for a mobile OS. Now, if LG wanted to do a Windows Phone 7 tablet, that might make sense.

But now, LG is even abandoning its plans to march forward with an Android tablet. Well, abandoning is strong. Delaying indefinitely. The thing is, while LG will miss the holiday season and be late to the Android tablet party, the decision to wait for Android 3.0 seems strategically sound. Rival tablets launching with Android 2.2 (or Android 1.6 in the case of the Dell Streak) may be doing the Android tablet concept more harm than good.

Google has explicitly stated that Android 2.2 is not designed with tablets in mind. The Android Market and the vast library of Android apps are not ready for tablets. Google is working on making Android tablet-friendly, and Android 3.0 is expected to be the first version of Google's mobile OS designed to capitalize on the unique qualities that tablets bring to the table.

An LG official is quoted by Reuters stating, "We plan to introduce a tablet that runs on the most reliable Android version...We are in talks with Google to decide on the most suitable version for our tablet and that is not Froyo 2.2."

There is still a tremendous amount of excitement and anticipation surrounding the upcoming launch of the Samsung Galaxy Tab -- the first real Android tablet, and the first device worthy of comparing to the iPad (even if it's only on paper right now). However, if LG is right and the Android 2.2 experience doesn't live up to user expectations for a tablet, Samsung may be doing itself, and all Android tablets that follow a dis-service.

First impressions are everything. If Android 2.2 causes the Galaxy Tab to stumble, the iPad will be perceived as that much stronger, and future Android tablets will be received with more cautious skepticism.

It will be interesting to see which strategy prevails: Samsung racing to market with a half-baked approach just to be first to take on the iPad and in time to compete for the holidays, or LG making a strategic decision not to bother producing a tablet if it can't deliver the quality experience users demand.

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Tony Bradley

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