Hard Sell for Motorola’s Xoom Wi-Fi Tablet

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Tablet enthusiasts waiting for a Wi-Fi version of the Motorola Xoom tablet won’t be waiting much longer: The Google Honeycomb slate launches on March 27 in a number of retail outlets. Wednesday, Motorola announced a price of $599 for the Xoom, which has the same specifications of the $799 edition, aside from the integrated mobile broadband radio for 3G or 4G connectivity.

Taking a cue from Apple, which sells its iPad in various stores, Motorola will sell the Xoom through many different online and brick-and-mortar chains. Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, RadioShack, select Sam’s Club locations, Staples and Walmart will all carry the Xoom. But unlike Apple, which typically doesn’t allow discounted prices on its products, I wouldn’t be surprised to see retailers offer the Xoom for less than Motorola’s suggested retail price.

Now that the Xoom will soon be available in a less expensive, unsubsidized Wi-Fi version — something 75 percent of our recent poll respondents are looking for in a tablet — will it sell in large numbers? Google’s Honeycomb platform is still — and will be, even at the end of this month — an unproven, immature tablet system. Aside from the core Google apps, there are few software titles that take advantage of the Xoom’s 10.1-inch display, making some apps look almost comical. And too many apps, even Google’s own, still crash too often for my taste.

On the plus side, by the time the Wi-Fi model is readily available, the Xoom should have received the update needed for Adobe’s Flash Player 10.2. Although it’s going to take time for third-party developers to create tablet versions of their software, I expect we’ll see additional optimized titles for Google Honeycomb devices — not a meaningful number by the end of this month, but perhaps a few top-tier titles will find their way to the Android Market within the next two weeks.

To help spur development, Motorola is holding global developer events in 11 cities across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. The first event was recently held in San Francisco, where Motorola says 665 developers attended in order to gain tools, support and Android expertise for app creation. That’s sure to help, but it’s going to take time for a wide array of Honeycomb apps to appear, just as it took time for Android smartphone apps.

It took a good six months after the initial Android phone launch for the platform to start gaining serious software traction, and that’s when Android first got rolling. Wi-Fi model or not, I expect a comparable timeframe to pass before Motorola’s Xoom sales really start zooming. Nearly $600 for what’s a companion device to most is a hard sell unless the experience is bulletproof and the tablet can offer the top-shelf applications that consumers and enterprises want.

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