Late last week, Google made version 3.1 of the Android operating system available and updating tablets using version 3.0.1 (codenamed Honeycomb). Since CES, Android has been viewed by many as an unpolished OS. What is clear is that the Android universe is going through some growing pains and that the OS is one of a number of challenges that the ecosystem is slowly overcoming as it tries to compete more effectively with Apple and the iOS.
It’s been evident that the early Android-based tablets aren’t selling as well as many expected, and some brands we spoke to indicated that the late arrival of the OS could be a good thing. One brand said its engineers saw a significant difference between 3.0.1 and 3.1, so instead of coming out earlier in the year, the brand decided to wait until 3.1 was ready to release a device. Dell recently went as far as to say it would only come out with its 10.1” tablet in China because executives felt that the position of Android in the US was still unclear and that the platform was still immature.
Google is working to rapidly advance the OS. At its recent Developers Conference, Google laid out ambitious plans for Android. For starters, it looked to refine the OS and enable a number of new features in version 3.1 highlighted by changes to the user interface to make it more intuitive and efficient. The OS also enables support for USB-connected peripherals, resizable home screen widgets, support for more external input devices (like keyboards, mice, joysticks, gamepads), and a number of new developer features.
The new OS seems much more stable on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1”. The apps run more reliably and consistently, and the platform hasn’t crashed yet. There are still some issues with running Adobe Flash, and the update process wasn’t as seamless as it could have been. Based on some forum postings, other users had similarly uncertain update experiences.
Currently, there are different versions of Android running on smart phones, tablets, and TVs. With its next version of Android, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, the company will attempt to bring all those device categories under one version of the OS. This will help to potentially increase the number of applications that can run on the different platforms with the idea that if you develop software for one platform, it will be able to run on others. This will certainly help to drive interest in the platform for developers and consumers. However, retail challenges still exist and may be getting worse as channels that aren’t accustomed to selling technology are making a go at the tablet market with limited success.
Still the tablet market marches on, and on June 13, Samsung and American Airlines announced that the airline will offer the Galaxy Tab 10.1” version, loaded with Android 3.1, for premium class in-flight entertainment.