The Real Tablet Wars Will Have to Wait Until Next Year

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Even with the much publicized release of the Galaxy Tab this week, it looks like the real battle to upend the iPad won’t happen until next year. Lenovo’s chief executive confirmed that its LePad tablet won’t hit the market until 2011. LG also pushed back the release of its tablet until next year. Both are waiting to launch their tablets with Android Honeycomb, the upcoming release that is designed for tablets. Meanwhile, those who want RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook or a webOS-based tablet will also have to wait until early next year.

This isn’t to say that competitors aren’t lining up offerings right now. Samsung is predicting it can sell 1 million Galaxy Tab devices running Android 2.2 by the end of this year. Acer is expected to unveil new tablets running Android later this month. And Dell has released the 5-inch Streak, which runs an older version of Android.

But Google has said that, currently, Android isn’t designed for tablets. And it looks like Gingerbread, the update that is scheduled to be released any day now, won’t be optimized for tablets. So Android tablets, even if they’re released this year, probably won’t hit their stride until Google releases Honeycomb.

Right now, manufacturers are torn between moving forward and trying to get some traction like Samsung is attempting to do, or waiting until the platform matures, but risk Apple zooming ahead again with the iPad 2. That some like LG and Lenovo are sitting it out suggests they’d rather nail it the first time with the right software rather than put out something that initially disappoints.

The early reviews of the Galaxy Tab illustrate some of those issues. It’s generally a solid platform, providing a blown-up smartphone experience. But reviewers have noted that the software still has a ways to go before it’s on par with the iPad. David Pogue of the New York Times praised the tablet but said existing apps are not designed for the large screen and the browser steers people to mobile sites, rather than full desktop sites that look better on the screen. Gizmodo was less charitable, calling it the Tab, “a grab bag of neglect, good intentions and poor execution.”

The iPad will surely get serious competition and will undoubtedly lose its 95 percent share of the tablet market. But it looks like we’ll need to wait for next year when Android tablets, along with a BlackBerry PlayBook and a webOS tablet from HP, can make a real run at the iPad.

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