While the Motorola Xoom will be a test of the viability of the media tablet design beyond Apple's iPad, as I've written before, the question is in what numbers will consumers pour, or trickle, into Verizon stores to grab one.
Let's begin by looking at Samsung, which has been trying to test the waters with its 7-inch Galaxy Tab. This is obviously just a pilot run for Samsung, as it does not use Google's Android operating system for tablets (i.e., not "Honeycomb" but Android 2.2 "Froyo") and has hardware (specs here) that will be quickly made obsolete by the Xoom and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook--not to mention the iPad 2.
And the Galaxy Tab is a bit of an enigma. It's not clear how successful Samsung's marketing effort has been, despite earlier reports. Samsung did not state shipment numbers for the Galaxy Tab in its year-end financial statement, though it cited figures for just about every other marquee mobile device it sells. And this report states--by way of a correction--that Samsung will not confirm a year-end number for the Galaxy Tab.
The point? All things considered, the current design of the Galaxy Tab is probably not a great test case for the market beyond the iPad.
So, what endows the Xoom with so much potential? This is a concerted effort by Google to make the Android tablet a success. Google has selected Motorola and Nvidia as partners to make sure the first Honeycomb tablet will hit the market with plenty of impact.
"Google's strategy has been to partner with a particular device maker and particular chipmaker and come out with that first generation of product," Richard Shim, an analyst with market researcher DisplaySearch, said in a phone interview earlier this week. As a result, Motorola will be the exclusive purveyor of the initial Honeycomb tablet. And the Xoom's specs are certainly impressive.
Honeycomb promises features such as an improved System Bar, better tabbed browsing, and an improved virtual keyboard--among numerous other tweaks and modifications.
And the choice of Nvidia as the provider of the dual-core silicon--replete with Nvidia's renowned graphics technology--is not surprising, according to Shim. "The smartphone is not very different from the tablet. The difference is that the tablet has a bigger screen, which translates to a bigger viewing area, which means a better graphics opportunity. Nvidia is an ideal candidate," he said.
And Motorola, of course, is good choice for a tablet supplier, as its Droid smartphones have competed well in the U.S. against the iPhone.
So, let's say--hypothetically at this point--that there are both Wi-Fi-only and 3G versions of the Xoom. And let's say rumors about an initial $699 price tag prove correct (another rumored price is $799). Would you consider buying one? Or would Motorola need to go a couple of hundred dollars lower? (The iPad starts at $499 and ranges up to $829.)
Whether consumers snap up the Xoom in impressive numbers could determine if tablets are just an Apple phenomenon or the real deal.