Summary:

Motorola (NYSE: MMI) announced plans Wednesday to release a much-cheaper version of its Xoom tablet without a cellular data connection.

The…

Motorola Xoom

Motorola (NYSE: MMI) announced plans Wednesday to release a much-cheaper version of its Xoom tablet without a cellular data connection.

The Xoom, which is one of the leaders in the charge against Apple’s iPad on behalf of the Android world, will now be available for $599 in a 32GB Wi-Fi-only version from Amazon.com (NSDQ: AMZN), Best Buy, and Walmart, among other U.S. retailers. It’s basically the exact same 10.1-inch Android 3.0 tablet, just without any link to Verizon’s data network.

It’s a bit difficult to understand why Motorola, if one assumes they had planned this all along, didn’t unveil this configuration when it first announced plans for the Xoom back in January at CES. One of the early knocks on the Xoom has been its $799 price, which makes a certain amount of competitive sense when one compares it feature for feature with similarly priced versions of Apple’s iPad but is still a high entry point compared against Wi-Fi only versions of the iPad that start at $499. The Xoom is available through Verizon for $599 with a two-year contract, which helps knock the acquisition price down a bit, but still suffers from the fact that contracts aren’t required for the iPad on either AT&T (NYSE: T) or Verizon’s networks.

So the $599 entry point will help deflect criticism over price, but you have to wonder if Motorola was forced into this move by the lukewarm reaction to the Xoom. Considered the best Android tablet option yet to reach consumers, the Xoom has still suffered from poor brand recognition against the iPad, especially after Apple’s iPad 2 launch extravaganza over the last few weeks. It’s quite possible that Android tablets will eventually follow the same path as Android phones, eventually catching up to Apple’s market share lead, but it’s too early to tell if the tablet market will evolve the same way.

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