There's no mistaking it: 2011 is the year of the tablet PC. There's something like a hundred of these things coming out in the next 12 months, following the trailblazing success of Apple's iPad. A significant number of them will be running Google's Android operating system and at CES it became abundantly clear why Google has been telling developers not to make Android 2.x tablets: because Android 3.0 has been in the works, specifically designed for tablets as opposed to smartphones. And while it's certain to suffer from a lot of the same device fragmentation issues that have plagued Android smartphones, there's no denying that 3.0 looks fantastic in these preview videos.
The tablet PC market is shaping up to look a lot like the smartphone market of the last few years; Apple has paved the way to mass-market success with its slick and highly functional iPad, and Google is preparing to join the battle late with a custom-designed, open operating system that will be used on a plethora of different devices.
Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" was announced at CES – here's a few preview videos:
The Maps app is looking better than ever, with its sexy 3D building popups:
The new YouTube browser looks far better than on any smartphone:
The Honeycomb web browser looks smooth and quick, with tabbed browsing and Incognito Mode for all your dodgy browsing needs:
Integrated Gmail shows the use of a large onscreen keyboard:
GTalk is Google's built-in videocall and chat interface:
Books is a reasonably attractive e-reader with direct access to Google Books:
It's fair to speculate that in the coming years, Apple's locked-down iPad will continue to offer the best user experience - provided you're happy to work within the narrow confines that Apple allows, but Android will probably gain a larger market share by becoming available on a wider range of brands and devices.
It's also fair to speculate that Android tablets will likely suffer a lot of the same problems as Android phones: home screens filled with crappy undeletable apps added by hardware manufacturers or network service providers, Android Market apps that don't work or work poorly due to hardware fragmentation, and difficult operating system upgrade paths due to customized interfaces laid on by each manufacturer. These are unavoidable with an open system that runs on such an array of hardware.
Still, the base interfaces look nice and it will be interesting to see how quickly Honeycomb devices start hitting the ground.