How the Android Stole Christmas

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During CES 2010 we saw prototypes of a heck of a lot of Android tablets, a good number of which were based on Nvidia's Tegra 2 chipset. 2010 was going to be the Year of the Tablet and we'd soon see a deluge of Android models hitting the market. Those were heady days for Android fans.

With two weeks left in the year, we're still waiting for that deluge to hit. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict it isn't going to happen. But just wait until next year!

Photograph: Marc Simon
According to a blog post at Barron's, Citigroup has done research that suggests that Samsung has placed a sizable order for Tegra 2 chips for the first half of 2011. These chips are destined for both smartphones and tablets. Citigroup's Eric Yeung says that Tegra 2 is going to be a 'reference design' for Android Honeycomb, the first version of Android that Google claims is suitable for tablet use.

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It's been a tough holiday season for potential Android tablet gift givers. The only really high profile Android tablet that made it to market this year is the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and with this talk of Samsung ordering Tegra 2 chips it seems like the Galaxy Tab will be some kind of stop-gap measure (presumably a Tegra 2-based Galaxy Tab 2 is in the works). Barnes & Noble's NOOKcolor is essentially an Android tablet, of course, but (unless you're going to use it primarily for its intended purpose, e-reading) it's only a suitable gift for those of us geeky enough to root our devices.

Just this past weekend Creative put its $250, 7-inch ZiiO Android tablet up for sale but at this late hour it's still something of an unknown. It's got an 800-by-480 resistive touch screen, and that alone is probably enough to dissuade most buyers. I mean, we're in the era of capacitive touch, aren't we? The ZiiO features Creative's ZiiStore rather than the Android Market. I don't expect this one to make a big splash.

One of the tablets that seemed quite intriguing last January was the Notion Ink Adam. Recently Notion Ink finally started taking pre-orders for the Adam (which is actually more of a line of tablets rather than a single device) but they aren't shipping until the end of January (and originally that date was early January so who knows if it'll slip again). To refresh your memory, the Adam is the tablet with (on some models) the Pixel Qi screen that acts like an LCD screen when powered and similar to E Ink when it isn't. The theory is that you get the best of both worlds, but I'd be wary about pre-ordering something with such a vague ship date and feature list (it still isn't clear what version of Android it'll ship with. 2.2 seems a safe bet but some rumors say it'll ship with 2.3, which isn't out yet, and which is the cause of the release date is sliding).

Notion Ink did release a video showing the tablet in action, seemingly as a way to assuage the mounting concern that the Adam was in danger of never shipping. The video (which I'll embed below) shows off the Adam's "Panel" interface which lets you see all the apps that are running. In some cases this seems like just a navigational feature, in other cases the apps seem fully functional within their panels. We also see a wireless mouse get connected to the tablet on the fly. Some interesting stuff, though scrolling through the panels seemed slow (individual apps the tablet seemed snappy enough).

But still, that's the future. A year after CES 2010, there's still not a lot of choice out there for holiday gift givers. Part of the fault probably lies with Google and their declaration that the current Android OS isn't a good fit for tablets, but Samsung has shown it can work with the Galaxy Tab. So why is it taking so long for quality Android tablets to hit the market? There've been rumors that the Tegra 2 has been problematic, but not all the incoming tablets are based on the Tegra 2. If there's a 'smoking gun' here, I've yet to find it.

Bottom line though: for Holiday 2010, the best tablet on the market remains Apple's iPad. Let's hope by the time Holiday 2011 rolls around, we Android enthusiasts will have a wide choice of speedy, high quality tablets to choose from.

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith .

This story, "How the Android Stole Christmas" was originally published by ITworld.

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