Google Shows Off Sweet Tablet Prototype

In a figurative googolplex of names and programs, Google and Motorola unveiled a tablet computer Monday night at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference that runs on Google’s Android 3.0 operating system, aka “Honeycomb.” Only the tablet remains without a name.

Conference gawkers claim the Google/Motorola Honeycomb tablet has about the same footprint as an Apple iPad, though Android head Andy Rubin — who offered the prototype peek — provided few details.

After cleaning the tablet screen on his blue jean pant leg, Rubin demonstrated “the newest version of Google Maps,” eliciting an “ooh!” from Boomtown blogger Kara Swisher at a D: Dive “fireside chat” alongside Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walter Mossberg.

Equipped with a 3D Nvidia processor, the tablet/mapping combo generated three-dimensional images with a slide of the finger across a screen punctuated by suggestive shadows. Though Rubin’s fingers took full control of the map, his audience still couldn’t “see through the windows” of buildings along the street — “yet,” he joked.

Windowpeak is an app, Swisher then quipped, “on the other Google engineer’s launch.”

Though the new Maps app will join Android phones “in a matter of days,” Rubin said, the Honeycomb tablet will be available “sometime next year.”

Significantly more advanced than the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, based on an earlier Android version, the Honeycomb tablet offers a “no button” design that allows phone and tablet applications to run more seamlessly and with a greater diversity of presentation, Rubin explained.

Motorola did not return TechNewsWorld’s requests for comment. Google representatives declined to add anything to Rubin’s demonstration.

Android Antagonistes

Though the Android operating system has suffered fits and starts — most notably with the failed Nexus One phone, shuttered after less than one year — “it has great potential to serve as the platform for mobile devices that are significantly cheaper than anything Apple would ever want to offer,” said Google expert Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia School of Law and author of the forthcoming The Googlization of Everything: How One Company is Disrupting Culture, Commerce, and Community… And Why We Should Worry.

Now, Google and Apple are competing for a high-end tablet marketplace that doesn’t yet include the “small businessperson in Nigeria, or India or Malaysia,” Vaidhyanathan told TechNewsWorld. Once the high-end market becomes saturated — a reality more near-term than far, if mobile phones are any guide — “Android is poised to take advantage of the tremendous growth in cheaper phones and tablets,” he explained.

Easier to adapt to a mobile device, Android “can be purchased and customized at little or no cost,” Vaidhyanathan said, in line with the thinking of Google’s Rubin.

“We’re not in the business to build just one tablet,” Rubin told Swisher when she asked whether the Motorola tablet was “the perfect expression” of Google’s tablet designs. “We want everybody building tablets to adopt Android.”

Citing Microsoft, Rubin said many companies “generically try to do software and expect it to work on all PCs. Google works with hardware partners from the start, so they know the specific thing they have to focus on, which leads to a much tighter integration of hardware and software.”

In a hypothetical continuum, Apple’s devices are “the perfect integration of hardware and software,” Rubin said, while Windows offers the most generic and loosely integrated software. Android “sits somewhere in the middle of this continuum.”

Waiting until Android is on all mobile devices to declare victory epitomizes Google’s long-term approach, UV’s Vaidhyanathan explained.

“Google really doesn’t worry about the short term with their ancillary programs,” he said. “Gmail, Docs, Android — these can all be money losers for the foreseeable future as long as the search cash keeps pouring in. Google is far more interested in capturing the long-term information infrastructure.”

Rising Cloud

A key facet of Google’s long-term vision is its desire to “blur the lines between browsers, operating systems, phones and mobile devices,” said Michael Hussey, founder and CEO of PeekYou, a 250 million person-strong Web hybrid of Google search and Facebook friends.

Though PeekYou has an iPad App, “Android is better for us because we think our best experience is on the Web, where you get the most data and the richest functionality,” Hussey — who started the popular and — told TechNewsWorld. “Google’s vision — that everything can go through the browser — fits better with our vision.”

The blending of browser and OS is another Android advantage, UV’s Vaidhyanathan explained.

As cloud computing pushes browser and operating system even closer together, he sees Google’s Android and Chrome merging, “maybe into something with an entirely new name and brand identity.”

“The cloud is much more attractive with smaller, mobile devices because it doesn’t require a big operating system,” Vaidhyanathan said. “In that environment, one would expect the new Android tablet to thrive. As both Apple and Microsoft know, Google is trusted in the cloud, where Android is lighter and more flexible.”

Flexibility is key for PeekYou, said Hussey, who estimates that 1 percent of PeekYou users operate in tablet environments — a number “that’s certainly growing.”

“What you see on your Android system is hosted on Google’s servers,” Hussey said. “This cloud-type system allows for greater integration with the Web than a separate program or app, and a better, more flexible user experience.”

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