Why Honeycomb Tablets Are Not Popular… and What Can Be Done About It

Google’s foray into the tablet market has, up till now, not been a very successful one, especially when you compare it to the success of Android on smartphones. Figures released a few days ago show that the Motorola XOOM, the first device to run Honeycomb, has sold 440,000 units since its release back in February. A handsome number, you may think, but when you think that in the same period the iPad 2 sold over 9 million units, Motorola’s figure seems puny in comparison.

Who is to blame for this? Well, it seems that both Google and the manufacturers are at fault, in my opinion, for the poor sales of Honeycomb tablets. They have both made fatal errors in many different areas which may have spelt out the early death of Honeycomb (it is due to be replaced by Ice Cream Sandwich in Q4 of this year). Let’s take a look at these errors in a bit more detail.

Pricing

Honeycomb tablets are simply too expensive for what they are and are not priced competitively enough. Any businessman will tell you that if you want people to gain interest in your product, you price it below its immediate competitors. However, Motorola really shot themselves in the foot when it came to pricing up the XOOM. Initial retail prices were around the $800 mark which was, in a word, ludicrous.

motorola-xoom-2

Despite receiving good reviews, the XOOM failed to prove popular with the punters.

Eventually, Motorola dropped the price to match that of the iPad 2 but, judging by the sales figures, this hasn’t really helped. Samsung’s Honeycomb tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1, is also priced the same as the equivalent iPad 2 (32GB model – $599).

A word to Samsung and Motorola: you aren’t Apple. Apple have managed to create a brand awareness meaning that people will gladly pay above-the-norm prices for their products (sad to say, I am one of said people) which other manufacturers try to replicate but crash and burn each time. Stop being greedy and slash the price.

Honeycomb Itself

Perhaps the main reason for the failure of Honeycomb tablets, though, is the operating system. I was quite impressed with Honeycomb when it first came out. It had a great interface, a new notifications system that was simple yet effective (and gave Honeycomb one up over iOS on the iPad) and multi-tasking was handled efficiently and properly.

But as you delved deeper and played around with Honeycomb, problems started to emerge. Despite being a final release, the whole operating system had a decidedly “beta” feel to it. This may have been due to the fact that the development of Honeycomb was rushed to coincide with the release of the Motorola XOOM back in February but Google, quite rightly, shouldn’t have allowed a half-finished product to hit the market.

Honeycomb is very clunky and unstable and even the much-touted 3.1 update did little to iron out the niggling creases in the operating system. I have experienced several force closes, even with stock applications such as the browser and despite the fact Honeycomb supports Adobe Flash, any Flash plug-ins on a web page slow the tablet right down and sometimes cause the browser to crash all together.

android-honeycomb_090258018F00884931

Android 3.1 was launched with great fanfare at the last Google I/O but failed to address some of the key issues with Honeycomb tablets.

Applications

One of the major gripes about Honeycomb is the lack of tablet-optimized applications available for it. Despite the fact Honeycomb has been around since February of this year, there are only about 350 tablet-optimized applications available for it, compared to the iPad’s 90,000 or so.

android-honeycomb-apps

Steve Jobs's stab at Honeycomb tablets was, unfortunately, true...and it hasn't really improved since then.

Most standard Android applications (i.e. those designed for phones) will, of course, work pretty much problem-free on Honeycomb tablets but they are simply stretched to fill the bigger screen. In my opinion, if you are splashing out your hard-earned cash on an Android tablet, surely you’d want to see some applications that actually make proper use of the larger screen, instead of simply being stretched to fill it?

The Market on Honeycomb tablets also does not have a dedicated tablet applications section, meaning that you have to either trawl through forums to find applications that are optimized for Honeycomb devices or search for “tablet” or “Honeycomb”, which can be quite a pain-staking task.

What Can Be Done?

Honeycomb is Android’s Vista – a operating system which was well-expected but simply failed to deliver. It seems like Honeycomb’s early death warrant has already been signed, seeing as Android 3.2, the most current release of Honeycomb, is now going to be the last one before the eagerly-awaited Ice Cream Sandwich is released sometime in Q4 of this year.

android-ice-cream-sandwich-02_090258018F00885261

It looks like Google is moving on sooner than expected - Ice Cream Sandwich is expected to replace Honeycomb in Q4 2011.

Honeycomb could do with an entire overhaul: the stability of the operating system needs to be worked on and it needs to be simpler to use to appeal to the mass market. Google also needs to make this release open-source (isn’t that what Android’s supposed to be in the first place?) so that developers can work on their applications and optimize them for Android tablets.

I am very impressed with Android as an operating system but Honeycomb was a major letdown, so much so that I am trading in my Xoom for an iPad 2. For the price I paid for it, £479 (around $785), I shouldn’t have to put up with so many inconveniences and faults.

If a product isn’t good enough, then don’t release it – it’s as simple as that. I can only hope that Google learns from the mistakes it has made with Honeycomb and delivers a new incarnation of Android that is sophisticated, innovative, stable and above all, fully completed.


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  • Ze

    “Google also needs to make this release open-source [...] so that developers can work on their applications and optimize them for Android tablets.”

    What does the fact that the operating system is open-source has anything to do with the optimization of applications for tablets? Is iOS for the iPad open-source? No. Is there a lack of optimized apps for the iPad?

  • Leonick

    Yea, at least in my opinion the biggest problem is Honeycomb itself.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love the interface, I love how honeycomb look, but it just doesn’t feel ready (of course, 3.1 and 3.2 might fix things).

    I actually got myself an Android tablet recently and I actually went for a 7″ that I knew would have gingerbread. There are 7″ device running Honeycomb, or at least coming soon, but hey, gingerbread works pretty good actually, at least on a 7″ screen.
    Now I just hope Samsung is gonna live up to the “all devices will receive all android updates released in the first 18 months of it lifetime” deal so I get Ice-cream Sandwich when it comes out.

    • Leonick

      Also, good work Appstorm.
      Just because you are covering Android doesn’t mean you can’t point out flaws or post news that would be negative about the platform.

      All to many Android (and iOS to be fair) blogs only post very biased articles.
      Just like the fans that for some reason can’t like something without hating everything else, even if they haven’t used it.

      • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

        Whoops, this was meant to go on iPad.AppStorm.

        I mean, uh.. thanks for your comment!

  • Kevin

    The thing you have missed in your article is the pace of Android. when I refer to the pace, I mean updates to the OS, increase in number of Apps and the sheer magnitude of Android devices on the market.

    Motorola Xoom may only have sold half a million in the same time that Apple sold 9 million, but are these statistics really of any relevance?
    Motorola could not have afforded to play the tablet game by themselves and could not have afforded to launch a tablet by themselves to compete with Apple.

    But, within the space of 1 year, we have tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Asus and I think another 10 manufacturers. these manufacturers are all able to customise the device to differentiate themselves and suit their customer base while still relying on the Android Marketplace.

    My question to you would be – how long do you think it will be before the companies producing Apple apps realise that they can write one app for Android that hits 5 times as many people regardless of whether they are on phone or tablet?

    I have iPad, Xoom and Galaxy Tab 7 and 10.1 – If you spent some time with the Galaxy TAB 10.1, I think your assessment may not be the same as you have written.
    My Xoom is for sale :)

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      Ooh, is the Galaxy Tab 10.1 really that good then? I’ve been eyeing them up but haven’t been sure about it…

      • Kevin

        I’m not a fanboy, so I regard my own personal taste as my own…but having said that, yes, I personally think the Samsung Galaxy TAB 10.1 is a 9/10.
        Firstly, it was fully operational with my company exchange e-mail within about 2 minutes, including all of the required security features.
        Within 5 minutes, all of my apps from my gmail account had automatically installed and my WiFi networks were already there without needing to configure them.
        On the fun side, My favourite things like fieldrunners, Zinio, YouTube, etc. are all there and looking great.
        But this is the thing…the Galaxy TAB uses android 3.1 and all of the apps that have been updated for Henycomb have only been set free on 3.0
        So, stuff that is rock solid stable on the Xoom is having a couple of issues on the TAB. Nothing that bothers me, but Zinio has crashed a couple of times and the dolphin ALPHA! for pad has locked up a couple of times. The Swype keyboard is a bit clunky occasionally, but I’m not a big fan of the Swype keyboard on a tablet anyway – so I have reverted to Thumb keyboard.

        My general response to people when they ask is it any good, I say “It’s amazing”

        • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

          Thanks for the detailed response, Kevin! It sounds great :) I hope the apps get updated for 3.1 soon.

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  • http://dribbble.com/danielkeller Daniel Keller

    just take a look at the UI of this OS, if you have a sense for aesthatic you know why they’re not popular… it looks messy, no grid or consistency, it’s one big thing thrown together…. it’s like they said “ummmm let’s just throw it all together, nobody gonna care about it”

    they should better improve the Android Marketplace and give it a clever solution to buy apps instead of using a credit card.

    • Dan

      That’s actually one of the reasons I’m moving away from my iPad. The interface is just a grid. I can’t customize it to what I want. I like being able to put stuff wherever I want it. If you want a grid you can have a grid. But the widget idea is a major impetus for my going to an android tablet later this year. iPads can do nothing without an app. I want my tablets to be more like a normal computer. It’s just my personal taste but I find a customizable interface allows me to be much more productive. Just my thoughts.

      • justin

        I have to agree. I get(got) tired quickly of apples iOS regimented grid and their boring UI.

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