Google's big tease on tablets: Is Android ready or not?

Google and its hardware partners are sending mixed messages about Android's tablet talents

Just when it appears Android 2.2 is ready to leap from smartphones to tablets, Google steps up and casts aspersions on its mobile operating system -at least for now.

Hugo Barra, director of products for mobile at Google, reportedly told UK tech news site TechRadar that Android 2.0, code-named Froyo, "is not optimised" (British spelling) to run on tablets. In addition, the Android Market won't be available on Froyo tablets, a major shortcoming.

"If you want Android market on that platform, the apps just wouldn't run, [Froyo] is just not designed for that form factor," Barra told TechRadar. That's unsettling news, particularly for tablet enthusiasts preparing to buy Samsung's Galaxy Tab, an Android 2.2 tablet that starts shipping in Europe next month.

Equally strange is the fact that Samsung's prelaunch hype seemingly contradicts Barra's Froyo dis. For instance, the company says the Galaxy Tab, which has a 7-inch touchscreen with a resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels, is compatible with about 85 percent to 90 percent of Android Market apps.

Of course, "compatible" and "runs well" are often light years apart. Just ask Apple iPad users who've dealt with iPhone apps stretched to fit their tablet's large 9.7-inch display.

So who's right? Is the Froyo-based Galaxy Tab ready to rock? Or should customers wait for Android 3.0? Samsung declined to comment for this story, and Google didn't respond by end of business day Friday.

The Froyo debate affects other soon-to-ship tablets too, including Toshiba's Folio 100, which made an appearance at this week's Internationale Funkaustellung (IFA) trade show in Berlin.

While Barra's comments may have seemed provocative-perhaps even detrimental to Android's tablet ambitions-it's no secret future versions of Android will fine-tuned for slates. Here's what IDC mobile analyst Susan Kevorkian told me recently:

"We're seeing new versions of Android coming out every few months or so. What we understand from talking to device vendors is that it won't be until Android 3.0 that the operating system is fully optimized for the media tablet's larger display and navigation, and what not."

Ah, but when will Android 3.0, code-named Gingerbread, arrive? Some rumors say as early as next month, although that seems too soon. If version 3.0's debut is only weeks away, why wouldn't tablet makers simply wait a brief time and install the slate-optimized Gingerbread instead of Froyo?

For business users mulling whether to bring Android slates to the workplace, the mixed messages from Google and its hardware partners send a clear message: We're not quite ready.

Apple iOS, Android's more refined mobile competitor, has successfully migrated from iPhone to iPad, albeit with a few minor hiccups. Will Android's transition be as painless?

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter http://twitter.com/jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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