By Jason Perlow |
Summary: While more responsive and with an improved browser, Ice Cream Sandwich still doesn’t address the fundamental flaws with Android on tablet computers.
For the last day, I’ve been tinkering around with Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) 4.0.3 OS on my Motorola XOOM.
Motorola hasn’t yet released the updated software for its tablet officially, but I was able to get the latest version of Android running due to work being done by various open source community teams at XDA-Developers, a popular forums site for Android development and hacking.
I’ve actually managed to try three separate ICS builds for the XOOM, just to get a sense of what stage the code is currently in. Motorola is reportedly now testing its official software release for their tablets with a pilot group of users, so that means if you own a XOOM, you should be receiving it via an over-the-air (OTA) update within a month.
Right now, all of the builds that are out from the community are essentially “Vanilla” based on code from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) although they have a few additional tweaks for things such as overclocking if you really want to dive into that sort of stuff.
There are other community-supported unofficial ICS builds out for other tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus Transformer — all of which of course require “rooting” your device and installing ClockWorkMod on it, an open source firmware manager utility.
Unless you know what you’re doing, I don’t suggest going this route with your Android tablet.
Currently, the three “team” builds I have looked at do not have functioning cameras/HDMI ports and have a number of other minor issues, but for the most part the aesthetics and general operation of the software more or less closely reflects what will end up being released within several weeks by Motorola as well as by other Android tablet OEMs.
With the acknowledgement that what I’m playing with right now does have bugs and in no way should be considered a production software release or an officially supported build by Motorola, overall, Ice Cream Sandwich is definitely an improvement over Honeycomb.
The software runs considerably faster, the user interface is more responsive overall and the browser renders pages more fluidly, which has always been one of my major complaints about the OS.
However, while existing Honeycomb tablet owners will see this software as a welcome improvement to what they were using before, I don’t see Ice Cream Sandwich as being some sort of magic bullet that is suddenly going to propel Android tablets into major market share territory (with the one major exception being Amazon’s Kindle Fire).
Right now, all of the Honeycomb tablets currently in use which are due for the ICS upgrade only occupy about a 3.3% share of the total Android install base. That’s not a heck of a lot. Most of the Android that’s out there is running on handsets.
- Also Read: Why Android Tablets Failed, A Postmortem (Jason Hiner)
Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which has supposedly sold millions of devices over the 2011 holiday season, runs on a modified version of 2.3.5, aka Gingerbread. As such it’s heavily supplementing the large percentage of 2.3.x smartphone devices that are already in circulation as reported by Google — most of which will not be upgraded to ICS.
[Note: If you didn't understand that last paragraph, it means that the Kindle Fire is not even being counted in Google's metrics, but by virtue of selling millions of units, it vastly increases the amount of 2.3.x Gingerbread in the wild. Capische?]
- Latest Android Figures Paint Dismal Tablet Picture (James Kendrick)
- Amazon’s Kindle Fire: The Tablet’s Volkswagen Moment
- Only Google can sort out the Android update mess (Adrian Kingsley-Hughes)
The last time I compared Android as a tablet OS versus Android as a smartphone OS side by side back in April of last year, the two implementations were not at version parity. Until now, the most current smartphone implementation was version 2.3.x (Gingerbread) and the most current tablet implementation was Honeycomb (3.x).
- Motorola XOOM returned, Honeycomb Half-Baked at Best
- Dear Google: Here’s Your Roadmap Out of Android Honeycomb Hell
The initial release of Honeycomb 3.0 was absolutely rife with problems. The OS had all sorts of application compatibility and overall stability issues which made the original XOOM I owned (and subsequently returned) a nightmare to use.
Over the course of that year 3.1 and later on 3.2 improved stability issues considerably. For testing purposes, I tried my luck again with the Wi-Fi version of the XOOM, when my ZDNet colleague Scott Raymond decided to sell me his for a generous discount when he decided he wanted a thinner, but very similar Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 instead.
Boys must have their toys, you know.
Had Scott not decided to give me a nice break on his barely-used XOOM, I would have never spent full price on the tablet, even at the $500.00 price parity with iPad 2 they were selling the devices at the time.
Today, you can pick up a 32GB Wi-Fi XOOM for about $450 and a 16GB Galaxy Tab for about the same. The Asus Transformer which is based on the same nVidia Tegra 2 guts will run you about $400.
The Asus Transformer Prime, which sports the new nVidia Tegra 3 Kal-El quad-core processor, will set you back about $500. Like the XOOM and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 it’s also due for a Android 4.0 update shortly.
[EDIT: I had previously stated that the Transformer Prime cost $600, but that was for the 64GB version.]
With the exception of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, I still think all Android tablets are seriously overpriced. Software update or not, that’s still going to be a major issue with consumers making decisions about what tablet to buy this year.
At least one major Android tablet manufacturer that I know of is due to release an 8GB 10.1 inch device in the next several days in the sub-$330.00 range. I think that’s a good start, but it’s not enough.
So then why is everyone so jazzed about the new software update? It’s because Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) version 4.0.3 finally brings Android smartphones and tablets into a single unified codebase.