Motorola Tries to Reheat Xoom With 4G Boost

Motorola and Verizon Wireless on Wednesday got around to delivering what’s been promised to owners of the Xoom tablet for several months: 4G LTE.

When the Motorola Xoom first went on sale early in 2011, buyers were told that they’d eventually be able to send their 3G-wireless-equipped tablets to a workshop where they’d be upgraded with faster 4G wireless hardware free of charge. The upgrade was promised to come in the first half of the year.

Verizon also announced the upcoming availability of a Xoom that comes with 4G technology pre-installed.

The Xoom has been on the market since February, when it debuted as the first tablet to feature Android Honeycomb, a version of the OS designed specifically for tablets. It was initially viewed as a worthy iPad competitor, though its sales took a hit when Apple released the iPad 2 a few weeks later.

Through the process, Verizon maintained the 4G version of the Xoom and the upgrade offer would be available by the end of the second quarter. Both are late, leading to plenty of unsatisfied customers, but the company is confident the upgraded version will give it a boost.

“The Xoom has been competing in this market quite successfully since February, so we have every reason to believe the update to 4G LTE will increase its popularity even more,” Brenda Boyd Raney, executive director of corporate communications at Verizon Wireless, told TechNewsWorld.

Existing Xoom users can go to Verizon’s site for information on how to send in their tablets for the upgrade. They’ll receive the device after about six business days. Consumers looking to buy the product in a Verizon store will have to wait until Oct. 15.

4G LTE: What Is It Good For?

The Motorola Xoom will join the Samsung 4G tablet in offering connection speeds on faster cellular data networks. While there is definitely a demographic demanding speedy downloads and access to quick entertainment while not connected to the Internet via WiFi, it’s unknown whether that market segment is large enough to support a premium-priced product.

“I think there is a market for users who want to stream video anywhere via 4G, but I am not sure how large it will be forcing vendors who will be competing in a relatively small market segment,” Peter Crocker, principal analyst with GigaOM, told TechNewsWorld.

Since consumer 4G technology is still in its early stages, high costs are one of the downsides to products connected to faster networks.

“The high data costs will keep these products out of the reach of many, and users who are so addicted to streaming video that they have to have it wherever they go presumably don’t have a lot of resources to spend on the Xoom and a 4G data plan,” said Crocker.

The increased energy consumption is also a factor when deciding between a 3G or 4G device, especially for users who anticipate using the tablet all day or for extended periods of time without charging, such as while traveling.

“Many users know that Apple in the past has said they didn’t think at the time that 4G LTE was suitable for Apple products because of the battery consumption,” Hendi Susanto, research analyst at Gabelli, told TechNewsWorld.

Though these issues will likely be resolved once 4G LTE technology becomes a more widely accepted connectivity technology, it’s unlikely that the Xoom will receive a significant boost in sales now that 4G is part of the package.

“It could be one of the things that advanced tech buyers look at, but for the average customer it may not be a differentiating factor when it comes to the product,” said Susanto.

Tough Crowd

Even among buyers for whom 4G is a significant selling point, the product still faces tough contenders from the crowded field of tablet devices. Each tablet that jumps into the market faces the question of whether or not it can compare to the market-leading iPad. The ones that can compete often do so with price — an advantage Motorola and Verizon haven’t decided to give the Xoom.

“Low- to mid-end buyers may take the ‘wait and see’ approach, and they want to see what the new Xoom looks like, but also try to find out when Apple is coming out with the iPad 3,” said Susanto.

With the $200 Amazon Fire shipping in November, consumers are offered a new, cost-efficient device. Even though the 4G version gives the Xoom a new spin, it’s been on the market since February and doesn’t have a new-product buzz surrounding it.

“Around the holiday season, it won’t be seen as a new product, so unless they do some kind of promotion or discount, it’s probably not going to have a major impact,” said Susanto.

The tablet market is increasingly crowded, and until the device category becomes more mainstream, plenty of worthy products are seeing initial losses as they try to jump in the game.

“I do think that 4G will help differentiate the Xoom and justify its higher price point, but this market will also quickly become crowded,” said Crocker.

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