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iPad? Xoom? Making Heads or Tails of Tablet Computing

Issue: Summer 2011
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With more than 14 million units sold in 2010 alone, the iPad has gone on to be a resounding success for Apple. And, for Apple’s competitors, it has opened up a new market that until now didn’t even exist. As 2011 has unfolded, Motorola came to the market with the Motorola Xoom, the first Android-powered device to implement Honeycomb, a new version of Android specifically designed for tablet devices. Not long after Motorola brought the Xoom to the marketplace, Apple unveiled the iPad 2, an updated version of their original iPad. So with more choices available in the market, how does one go about deciding on a tablet? Let’s compare and contrast these two devices across several of the key feature areas.

Hardware
Let’s start by taking a look under the hood. The iPad 2 and the Xoom both run on 1 GHz dual core processors. The Xoom’s screen is slightly larger and higher resolution than the iPad. Despite the higher resolution screen of the Xoom, the iPad screen produces a clearer, brighter image. The iPad is thinner, lighter, and sleeker, showcasing Apple’s design flare. The Xoom has an odd placement for the on/off button on the back of the device that leaves the user hunting. Both devices have front and rear cameras for photo and video, but the Xoom is the clear winner with twice the resolution in the front facing camera and an even wider gap on the rear facing. Both devices include the ability to connect to a projector or widescreen TV to output to a screen for presentations or multimedia viewing.

Operating System
The hardware may provide the horsepower, but it’s the software that truly provides the experience. The Apple iPad runs Apple’s iOS operating system, the same software that runs its iPhone and iPod Touch. In the mobile space, iOS is a mature OS, packed full of all the features that have made the iPhone, iPod, and iPad platforms so popular. It feels like a polished experience that includes subtle but important tactile feedback that draws the user in. Apple has focused on making their software easy to use and consistent. The menus and navigation are straightforward and require little learning for new users.

There are a lot of factors that come into play when choosing one of these devices.

The Motorola Xoom runs the latest version of Google’s Android OS called Honeycomb. Honeycomb is the first version of Android OS to be focused on the tablet form factor and the Xoom is its inaugural device. Android offers users more options for customization than iOS does, including widgets and screen layout options. It also has a more sophisticated model for device notifications than Apple’s interrupting pop ups. The trade off more options and customizations is a user experience that doesn’t flow as naturally and easily as it does on the iPad. It may appeal to the techies, but is somewhat confusing for those less inclined to tinker.

Pros Cons
iPad 2 Great display, light, thin Serviceable, but not great cameras
Xoom Better rear and front cameras Heavier, thicker, odd placement of controls

 

Pros Cons
iOS Polished user experience; simple to use Less configuration options, interrupting notifications
Android Open source and more customizability Tablet version of Android still immature

Device Ecosystem – Software, Hardware, and Development
The Motorola Xoom and the Apple iPad have strong differences when contrasting the platform approach as an ecosystem. The Xoom is hardware designed by Motorola that runs an operating system designed by Google. The operating system will support devices from other hardware manufacturers and presumably each will build their own variation on the integration of the hardware to the device software. By contrast, Apple builds its own hardware and OS and maintains strong control over the software as a whole. The Apple iOS runs across Apple’s set of mobile class devices; iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. The variations in the hardware are minimized with a specific set of targets designed by the same company that’s creating the hardware. Given this consistency, app developers have potentially less variables to contend with in making their apps operate in a consistent manner across the platform. Android developers must consider widely varying hardware and software combinations and therefore have potentially more variability to contend with.

Apps!
What would mobile computing be without apps? Tools for business productivity, games to entertain, utilities to eliminate paper processes, and windows into our social networks – the possibilities are limited only by developers creativity. When the original iPad launched back in 2010, the App Store had over 1,000 iPad specific apps at launch. The iPad 2 today boasts of access to more than 65,000 different iPad specific apps. Not every app in Apple’s store is as innovative as the next, but given the sheer number of apps, there’s plenty of variety to choose from and a lot of compelling apps to download. By contrast, when the Motorola Xoom launched earlier this year, there were less than 20 apps in the Android marketplace that were designed for the Honeycomb tablet platform. That number is increasing as the market grows, but as it currently stands, it’s negligible compared to the mature and ever growing Apple App Store. One of the key elements to Apple’s success with the App Store is the strong development community they have nurtured. Part of the App Store’s appeal for developers is its record of success in terms of sales revenue. Many commercial apps have not found the same success in the more loosely-controlled Android marketplaces. In turn, Apple’s App Store tends to have higher quality commercial apps. In order to compete with the iPad, Google will need to build a thriving development community that targets the Honeycomb version of Android for tablets.

Adoption
The market for this new class of mobile devices is young, but growing. The current leader of the pack is clearly the Apple iPad and presumably that will continue with the iPad 2 at least in the short term. Apple released the iPad in April of 2010 and sold over 3 million units in the first two months. Following the early adoption trend, sales remained strong throughout 2010 with nearly 15 million units sold by years end. Most recently, Apple sold 4.7 million iPads during its quarter ending March 26, 2011. Those sales include all of the iPad 2 devices that they were able to make. According to Apple, many of the fortune 500 companies are currently testing or deploying iPads inside their businesses.

As for the Xoom, Motorola recently published sales figures indicating that it sold 250,000 Xoom tablets in the first quarter of 2011.  This indicates a much weaker early adoption rate when compared to the strong launch of the iPad.  Also more recently, sales of the iPad 2 over the same period were significantly higher.  Some analysts have indicated that the initial launch of the Android Honeycomb OS on the Xoom was plagued with glitches that slowed consumer adoption and caused several other hardware manufactures to delay product releases that implement Honeycomb.  Google and Motorola have some kinks to iron out before they will be able to compete with Apple’s iPad and iPad 2 adoption rates.

Pros Cons
iPad 2
and iOS
Hardware and software delivered by single company controlling the platform App store apps are controlled and reviewed by Apple
Xoom and Android Less controls around app marketplace Less consistent quality of apps

 

Pros Cons
iPad 2 Tons of apps, lots of good
quality apps
Xoom Very limited numbers of apps

Value
The Apple iPad 2 is available in several different configurations. One of the largest differences between the two platforms is the availability of apps. Apple’s App Store is full of apps to keep you entertained, connected, and productive. The Honeycomb apps available in the Android Marketplace pale in comparison to the wide range of options available for the iPad. Each of the platforms will continue to mature and more apps will become available on both, but as it stands right now, there’s tremendous value in gaining access to Apple’s App Store.

Pros Cons
iPad 2 Lots of iPads being sold,
upward trend, market
excitement
Xoom Slow early adoption rates, issues with the OS
during initial release

So which one?
If only there was a simple answer. There are a lot of factors that come into play when choosing one of these devices. The Android device is appealing to the types of users that like to tinker with their devices and customize the settings to create their own unique experience. The iPad, on the other hand, offers a simpler more straightforward design approach to the device and the user interface that’s easy for a wide range of users. The iPad is just as compelling for toddlers playing learning games as it is for seniors plugging in to the social networks–and everyone in between.

Pros Cons
iPad 2 Devices available at $499, access to tons of apps
Xoom Competitive price Lack of apps limits
flexibility