I’m finishing up a week of reviewing the new Acer Iconia 500 Tablet and on the hardware side it is nicely differentiated from the iBook. On the software side (there is some irony on the top of the Acer Iconia page where it says “Acer recommends Windows 7”) not so much and it feels like Google, who seems to like to repeat Microsoft mistakes, is repeating “Plays for Sure” with their Honeycomb tablet platform. That’s actually not fair to Plays for Sure, because it actually was better. The software isn’t cooked and that hurts an otherwise nicely done tablet significantly. It is better than the Xoom and cheaper than the iPad but I wouldn’t buy it myself, at least not yet, let me explain why.
Iconia Tablet: Stunning Hardware
This is a stunner in terms of hardware, I have only one nit in this regard but it is, for me a big one and I’ll get to it in a minute. The product uses Tegra 2 NVIDIA’s current platform for ARM on high end tablets and smartphones. Tegra 2 outputs 1080P and this potentially allows you to put anything on the tablet onto your TV, it has a wide format screen that is 720P and is great for both movies and reading. That’s a lot of power in a tablet and the iPad doesn’t even have the Iconia Tablet’s HDMI port. It has a USB port in for file transfer and a USB port out for USB accessories. This thing is wonderful with games, fast and the resolution is fantastic. Tegra 2 supports flash (but this starts to point to the “Plays for Sure” problem with this version of Android) and it has an acceptable 8 to 10 hours of battery life (the iPad typically gets around 10). It costs about $50 less than the iPad.
One thing I really didn’t like about this tablet is the need for a special charger. It doesn’t charge through the USB port which means bringing yet another charging brick and since I’m forever leaving them behind this could be a real issue if I lost it. Most of the tablets have this issue, but I’d favor a tablet that didn’t.
The “Plays for Sure” Problem
Plays for Sure was Microsoft’s first competitor to the iPod. It was a hardware independent platform that was to connect MP3 players seamlessly to music; it was expanded to include the Portable Media Center products which included movies. The bad joke with Plays for Sure was that it didn’t. Like many things from Microsoft last decade starting with Plays for Sure and ending with Windows Vista it wasn’t complete when it shipped. Origami, Microsoft’s platform that beat the iPad to market, failed miserably for this same reason. They didn’t finish it. On paper any one of these could have done incredibly well, the Zune player is actually better than iTunes but it was tied to disappointing hardware and failed but showcased what Plays for Sure could have been, Origami was vastly better thought through when it came to media and keyboard but it was clunky and unfinished, Windows 7 is the finished version of Windows Vista and it is incredibly popular.
Microsoft knew what was needed but chose not to deliver it in all cases. That’s the “Plays for Sure” problem, shipping a product that is incomplete and doesn’t meet expectations.
Honeycomb the new “Plays for Sure”
The product does most of what you want it to do it is just difficult getting it done. It will do Flash but it doesn’t ship with it, the media player is really hard to find but once you find it (or in my case read the review notes) it works fine. Getting media onto the device is problematic because it uses the Windows Media Player something that Microsoft doesn’t even use anymore (they use the updated Zune player) and Windows Media Player feels like something out of the early 90s in comparison (and didn’t complete a single transfer for me successfully). I was able to copy files over manually but I had to transcode them first before they would run on this Acer tablet. Don’t get me wrong, iTunes isn’t perfect either, but it is sure a lot better than this.
I have 6 things I want to see on a tablet personally. I want Slacker (which has an Android port) for music, Netflix for movies, the Kindle reader for books, Angry Birds (or a similar game to kill time), Outlook support, and Social Media support. Slacker, which I know works on Android tablets because got it to run on the Xoom, I couldn’t find for the Iconia, Netflix is still not available (though I’m told it is coming), the Kindle reader loaded and worked just fine, Angry Birds was wonderful, Outlook support required a third party application, and Social Media (Twitter and Facebook) required third party applications or simply using the browser, and the device has a good browser.
It feels like Google missed the meeting on Tablets being appliances and not build it yourself products. It almost seems like they think consumers enjoy the hell out of getting products in unfinished kit form. I even had to create a music folder to put music in (it worked fine once I did). With the iPad there are stories of 4 year olds figuring it out, with this platform it took me several hours, reading the reviewer’s guide twice, and a lot of trial and error to get most of what I wanted working. The hardware (with the exception of the charger) never let me down but the software was simply too raw for this class of product.
I’m reminded of a song from the play A Chorus Line called “Dance 10, Looks 3” which is about a gifted dancer who evidently isn’t very attractive and can’t get work. The Iconia 500 Tablet is kind of the opposite, more a “looks 10, dance 3” product. It can, with work, do most of the steps but while the hardware and price are arguably better (with the notable exception of battery life) than the iPad the execution is notably worse and that execution is mostly from Google.
What just strikes me as crazy, given how critical Google has historically been of Microsoft, is why they would want to repeat most ever one of Microsoft’s mistakes. My only guess is that they’ve hired the folks from Microsoft that made them and those folks don’t want to admit they are mistakes. Either that or they have a deep seated desire to torture hardware OEMs and end users.
Whatever the cause, the hardware OEMS are busting their humps to create great hardware and both they and the market need Google to step up and create a complete software platform. This should include the necessary Windows and Mac clients to provide a true Zune or iTunes experience and getting critical partners like Netflix on board timely. Apple does this, hell even Microsoft with Zune did this; I’m sure Google can as well. Until they do, Steve Jobs will own this space.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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