Honeycomb Is The First Shot Fired Along Apple's Bow

Android 3.0 aka Honeycomb means Google is now officially at war with Apple. The lines are drawn. The sides chosen. This is going to get nasty, but there doesn’t have to be a clear winner for consumers to win.

The Apple iPad stood alone in 2010 while Google was finalizing Android for the slate form factor. If this were a race, the iPad would be miles ahead while Android was still packing carbs. But it’s not a race. It’s a fictional war, and while Google might be a bit behind in both market share and consumer awareness, it’s never too late to introduce a new, major platform like Android 3.0.

But how can the upcoming Honeycomb devices — the Motorola Xoom and the LG G-Slate — stand strong against not the current iPad, but the upcoming second generation?

Can Android beat the iPad in terms of hardware? Sure. The iPad dev cycle lasts one year while there will be hundreds of Android Tabs out in the next few months. Too bad hardware is irrelevant in this sort of platform war. Everyone is going to use similar processors and similar memory technologies. Screens won’t be much different among these devices, no matter how much folks like Pixel Qi want that to change.

The iPad ruled 2010. Not a single tablet could stand up to its feature set or general appeal. Only the Samsung Galaxy Tab sold in any significant numbers, but it’s still not clear how many they sold in the first place. To be fair, the current Android release was never truly designed for the slate form factor, but manufacturers like Dell and Samsung pushed on, determined to put up something against the marauding iPad. Both hit the market with an anticlimactic thud and tarnished the Android name.

2011 will be different. Android 3.0 is a proper tablet OS, designed from the start to be a tablet interface. Things are going to get interesting from here.

Previously Android tablets were sold on hardware specs alone. It was like computer Mad Libs: “Oh, nice, the [tablet name] is built on the [mobile platform ] and comes with a [size in inches]-inch screen.” The iPad, however, was sold on capabilities thanks to Apple’s vertical ecosystem. “Oh, nice, you can play [game app], use [productivity app] or enjoy content from [streaming app].” Those two ideas – the specs vs. apps argument – will converge.

Honeycomb changes this and brings the Android tablet to nearly the same level as the iPad with a robust backed-in feature set. Everything from the totally redesigned the UI with live multitasking, mulitple tool bars and a whole host of new apps is different from iOS. It’s by far the most dramatic update since the Android platform launched and in many ways, it looks and works totally different from anything else currently on the market.

Even the Android Market got a fresh set whitewash. The new web version packs features that allows developers to better promote and describe their wares just in a similar fashion as iTunes. The web version even allows users to buy apps online, which will then automatically download to the phone or tablet.

Which tablets will take the popularity crown from the iPad? Well, it’s hard to say.

Look at the Motorola Xoom. It rocks a 10.1-inch, 16:10 display, a 3G modem that’s later upgradeable to 4G, a 5MP camera, and a gorgeous casing. The LG G-Slate is more of the same except it sports 3D cameras and a Tegra 2 platform that’s able to support 1080p capture and playback. But none of that should matter in the long run.

These are pricey tablets and in order for the Android tablet to become a hit like the iPad, the volitilty normally associated with Android needs to subside and the tablets just need to work as advertised. Looking forward to future hardware profiles is fine, but building a platform around what’s currently available installs trust and confidence. When people purchase the iPad, or the iPhone really, the features the device is built around a current feature set that works as it should. Android’s trademark, “Wait until the next version! That’s when it will be an Apple killer.”

The iPad 2 will no doubt right some of the original’s wrongs. There’s said to be an SD card slot, a larger and therefore functional speaker, and maybe even a thinner bezel.

The second generation of Android tablets are tackling the many problems with the software suite: built-in tablet apps, improved user interaction and a code base designed for tablet hardware platforms.

Again, none of this really matters. Android vs iOS is a silly battle that’s fought only on fan sites and forums. Google and Apple are constantly working to bring the best they can to consumers. Both look at each other’s products and and compare competitors against their own work. Sometimes features make it to the other’s products. Sometimes they don’t, but they’re both turning into phenomenal products, regardless of who shoots where.