Beyond Apple's iPad, the tablet computer market is a murky place inhabited largely by vaporware. While product announcements abound, few tablets are actually shipping. That's likely to change soon, however. The Dell Streak, for instance, will be available in late July, according to Dell's site. And various reports have HP and other hardware makers rolling out 20 or so slates this year.
Asus has set its sight on tablets too. In May it announced two devices: Eee Pad EP121, with a 12-inch touchscreen and Windows 7 Home Premium; and Eee Pad EP101TC, with a 10-inch touchscreen and Windows Embedded Compact 7 OS. But now it appears that Asus may ditch Windows Embedded on its smaller tablet and go with Google's Android OS instead, according to Netbook News.
The report, if true, makes good business sense for Asus. While Microsoft is fighting to keep its Windows Embedded mobile OS relevant in the 21st century--the company recently announced a new version for enterprise handheld devices--tablet manufacturers are clearly leaning toward Android, a development encouraged by the growing popularity of Google's mobile OS in the smartphone market. Business customers, many of whom already use Android phones, would likely be comfortable investing in tablets running a familiar OS.
For mobile workers, a tablet ecosystem dominated by Android-based devices has its pros and cons. The pros include a proven touchscreen OS designed expressly for portable computing, a large and growing Android Market with 70,000 apps (give or take a few), solid integration with Web-based productivity apps such as Google Docs, and the upcoming App Inventor tool that lets non-coders build their own programs.
The cons? The verdict is still out on how well Android tablets would play with business applications, many of which are made by Microsoft. Redmond has the upper hand here. Why should Microsoft strive to make Office, Exchange, and SharePoint work seamlessly with Android-based tablets, a move that could cripple the growth of Windows in the mobile market? Then again, if Windows 7 proves to be a clunky mismatch for slate devices--it is, after all, a desktop OS being retrofitted for touchscreens--Android would likely win another victory.
But which Android version is best for tablets? Android 3.0, rumored to debut in late 2010 or early 2011 with a revamped interface and support for higher-resolution displays, is a likely match for the Asus Eee Pad EP101TC and other devices of its ilk.
The migration of Android from smartphones to tablets may confuse both business and consumer buyers in the near future, however, particularly if mobile devices running Google's browser-based Chrome OS also debut next year. Indeed, the ever-ambitious Google may be offering too much of a good thing.