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As Large Tablets Get Android 3.1, Smaller Slates Wait

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In what’s becoming a tale of two tablet sizes, Netbook News notes Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab 10.1 will ship with Android 3.1 while Acer is reportedly delaying its 7-inch A100 tablet due to screen challenges found with Android 3.0. Samsung is a key Google (s goog) partner, having been the showcase Android device provider at this month’s Google I/O developer event, where all attendees received a Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. The potential delay of Acer’s 7-inch tablet reinforces the idea that some Google partners have earlier access to the Android code than others, but could also mean that smaller slates aren’t suited for Google’s tablet platform.

Motorola(s mmi) was likely the first device maker to gain such access. As Google unveiled Android 3.1 during its developer conference, Motorola announced that its Xoom tablets for Verizon’s (s vz) network would soon receive it via software update. That update has been rolling out since then, with many Xoom owners able to take advantage of the improvements. The Samsung tablets handed out during the same event didn’t have Android 3.1, but the company said it would be “coming soon.” However, the product page for the new 10.1-inch tablet now reflects the device will ship with version 3.1 when it launches in “a few days” according to Samsung Mobile’s Facebook page. Until then, here’s a first look at the device:

Samsung’s situation is a sharp contrast from that of Acer’s. I recently reviewed the Acer Iconia Tab A500, another 10.1-inch Android 3.0 tablet and found it to be a decent device for those on a budget due to the $449 price tag. But like other Android 3.0 devices, it suffers from some issues directly related to Google’s operating system. Android 3.1 should help, and an Acer representative told me via email that the A500 would gain Android 3.1 by the end of May. However, various reports indicate the upgrade is pushed back into June. Earlier this morning, Acer confirmed with me that’s the case.

That may have repercussions for the A100, a 7-inch Android 3.0 tablet that was expected to launch as early as April. DigiTimes today sources industry contacts as saying the A100 is now scheduled to launch in August or September. The cause for the reported delay? DigiTimes says Acer is struggling with app compatibility on the smaller screen and will resolve the issues with Android 3.1. My Acer contact wouldn’t confirm this development, saying earlier today that the company doesn’t comment on unannounced products.

If DigiTimes correct, it suggests Acer may not yet have, or only recently gained, access to Android 3.1 from Google. That’s a possibility, but it also causes me to wonder if Android 3.0, or 3.1 for that matter, simply isn’t suited to a lower-resolution display. Google designed a completely new user interface specifically for large-screened devices, although there are some features that can help bring the operating system to smaller screens. The Fragments API, for example, arrived in Android 3.0 and allows apps to be independent of screen size or resolution.

Since Android 3.1 doesn’t bring new user interface features that would benefit smartphones or smaller tablets, access to the code maybe be irrelevant. Google has already announced the next major version of Android, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, will unify the mobile platform across large screened tablets and smartphones with smaller displays. Seven-inch slates fit squarely in the middle of those two extremes, so my educated guess is that those smaller tablets will see an optimized user experience with that version of Android, currently targeted for the fourth quarter of this year. Personally, I find the prospect of waiting a little sad, because I prefer the added mobility of a 7-inch tablet over a larger device.

10 Responses to “As Large Tablets Get Android 3.1, Smaller Slates Wait”

  1. I like my Android phone, and am certainly no fan-boy of Apple, but some days it seems that Google is its own worst enemy. Major OS updates are not the same as software updates. Who want to buy a tablet only to find that your OS is no longer supported just after you purchased the device? Its bad enough dealing with 2.2 vs. 2.3 vs 3.0, but now we are told that Ice Cream Sandwich is what we are actually waiting for. And it is not expected until the end of 2011. I really wanted to buy a 7-inch tablet, but I am not going to buy something that is totally dated out of the box. I give Apple some credit. At lease they take their owners through a revision or two of thier iOS, over the span of a a few years, before they stop supporting their hardware. If they only offered Flash on thei iPad, my decision would be much easier. The joys of technology in its infancy!


    • auststreaker

      Ken my only advice is that if you are on Froyo 2.2 there is no need to update. You got to ask yourself really what apps you are using and whether the OS runs it then decide if the OS needs upgrading.

      It is like windows xp, vista, windows 7 etc and I am still on windows XP as it runs all the apps that I need.

      my 2c worth advice :)

      • That was my thought at one point as well. but, I saw what happened to those running Andorid 1.6, and my XP machines at home are at that point where new software is not being designed with this OS in mind. At some point, a critical piece of software requires an upgrade of hardware and/or OS. I am sure that 2.2, or 2.3, will be fine for some time, but I would imagine that developers are putting their energy into apps that run under 3.X and beyond. I can handle a bit of OS fragmentation as it is almost impossible to avoid, but too much too soon is quite frustrating, especially on an item that is not essential. Thankfully, I am not in a rush at the moment, so I can wait and see for a bit.

  2. I have a Verizon Galaxy tab and I love the size. My disappointment is in the fact that I don’t know that my software will ever be updated by Samsung/Verizon. I also have a 1st gen ipad and frankly, Apple hasn’t disappointed in the software update arena.

    The typical answer of loading custom roms is not satisfactory for me. I’m an enthusiast but loading something that’s not tested on my device with the potential of serious hardship is not appealing in the least. Google should mandate timely software updates to the manufacturers on devices that have the specs to support it. The galaxy tab should be easily upgradeable to 2.3, but it’s nowhere to be found besides cryptic press releases from Samsung.

  3. Tanati

    thats actually what I’ve been assuming for awhile, we wont see a proper 7″ Android tablet until ICS. the hardware is ready, it’s been ready for months, these delays can only come from software. keep in mind that Acer isnt the only 1 to delay their 7″ tablet.

    I would really like to see a 5-7″ tablet designed like a phone (no thumb-bezel). it would be much more portable, you don’t need a bezel on a device that small, & personally I don’t care about 1-handed use.

  4. Tried 7″ lately and its too big on the go – for me! definitely personal.
    I have to carry a bag – as in Canada once its above 10C its short sleeves and no coat Ha.
    I also tried a 5″ and its great. Actually the Streak has such a big frame that I am sure that it can be 5.5″ or even close to 6″ if only made with the same quality of the Samsung Galaxy line.
    My perfect device size is derived from my business pants pocket size. Probably ~5.5″ if made right. I just can’t take a small bag with me or carry it in my hand when I go on business meetings.

    • auststreaker

      I am with you on this.

      I have a 13.1 sony z for work and the other mobile device is a phone tablet Dell Streak 5″. The galaxy tab 7″ is great device since I have two (for the kids), I cannot lug it around and get personal with it.

      My dell streak 5″ is the device of choice for over 6 months now and loving it. With the dell streak bezel remove, I am pretty sure it can go to 5″-6″ screen and make it 1024*600 res with Dual Core, I will line up for it day and night.

      I believe the tablet 10″ market although rising in penetration, cannot replace a business laptop IMO, nor can it replace a mobile phone.

      I am currently begging for manufacturers to release a phone tablet between 5″-6″ with 1024*600 res and dual core cpu I am sold. This is because web browsing is lightning for mobile device but slow compare to a desktop/laptop experience and I don’t use the pinch and zoom and hence turn on large font size which cut of titles on news website. Very minor issues for me and hence, Dell Streak 5″ rule for now.

      Anyone with me on this?

  5. Travis

    I haven’t made the jump to tablets yet. I’ve wanted an iPad for the longest time but view the 7″ form factor as being more useful from a mobility standpoint. I’d been hoping the Honeycomb tablet UI improvements in a 7″ form factor could sway me away from the iPad.
    Unfortunately every time I travel and see scores of people sans-laptop with their iPad, it gets harder and harder to hold out. It would be so nice to leave the 10lb laptop bag at home.

  6. I really don’t care about Honeycomb’s “UI”. ANd I don’t use my 7″ tablet horizontally so there is very little benefit for the fragment feature.

    I am fine with launcherPro or 2.2 UI on my Galaxy Tab.

    I wish there are more and better hardware keyboard option for 7″ tablets though.