Is Android Honeycomb intentionally broken?

Posted by Rob Enderle
One of the biggest complaints about Windows is that vendors often feel Microsoft doesn't provide enough room to differentiate.  
To be sure, Redmond delivers a complete product with core capabilities like media consumption and browsing, while also selling Office alongside its flagship OS. In essence, this is a complete product - short of individual application preferences, of course.   

Is Android Honeycomb intentionally broken?Certainly iOS and OS X products are quite complete as well, but Cupertino obviously doesn’t need to provide differentiation for OEMs - because Apple is effectively its own (and only) OEM.
 

I’m actually finishing up a review of the Acer Iconia 500 powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2.

Although the tablet has some pretty cool hardware specs, I couldn't help notice how unfinished Honeycomb is. Then again, I wonder if Acer didn’t miss the meeting where they were supposed to finish off what Google did in order to differentiate. Let me explain.  

Iconia 500 – Better than Xoom
Before we get to my primary argument, allow me to provide you with a brief overview of the Acer Tablet. So far, of the Android tablets I’ve tested, the Iconia 500 weighs in as the best.  

It boasts a wide angle panoramic screen, Nvidia's Tegra 2 graphics system, beautiful hardware, nice port out (USB in and out, HDMI, docking port), a flash slot for additional memory, and a 8-10 hour battery life.

Acer Iconia TabRegarding hardware, the Iconia, with the exception of battery life and a front facing camera (which I doubt I’d ever use), definitely presents a better (in my view) hardware load out than Apple's iPad 2. 

Like the Xoom, which was worse, the weakness resides in the software load out and PC client. It uses Windows Media player for media file transfer (Microsoft moved to Zune itself years ago).

In addition, finding the media player on the device wasn’t intuitive (it’s the "Nemoplayer") but it worked fine once I got movies onto the device; there was no music folder (had to add it); I couldn’t find my favorite streaming music player (Slacker) in the store (not ready for Honeycomb yet); and Netflix still won’t work on Android tablets. By the way, Slacker works just fine on Android as I tricked the Xoom into running it. The app runs native on my Dell tablet native; with Slacker saying they have a Honeycomb version due out shortly.

Finally, there was no native Outlook support. In contrast, my Dell Streak has this app built in, and it is also expected on the coming HTC tablet as well. 

Yes, Google definitely has to fix Netflix, but the issue is that the content owners don’t think the platform is secure enough (yet). However, it is being worked on (you can get this on some Android phones now), and Slacker support is waiting on Slacker and a personal preference. But I believe mostly everything else could be addressed by the OEM. 

Finishing the Kit
I think Acer could have made this experience far better had they done some additional work and the result would have been a far more powerful platform.

A little thing like changing the icon on the movie player to a movie reel would have helpful. Why? Because I know "Nemo" the PC product but didn’t connect it to Nemoplayer, at least visually. This was both because of the icon and I’m not used to seeing Nemoplayer as one word – I was pronouncing it in my head with a soft "e").   

It also needs an improved and more up to date client than Windows Media Player and Nemo - which some other third party likely could provide - and should ship with one or more of the streaming music service clients already installed and in the multimedia folder (Pandora, Napster, Slacker). 

Given how many people use Outlook and Exchange I think they should have at least a trial version of a good Outlook client. So many on the Android market are junk and this would save a ton of time. Of course, Netflix is a deal breaker many of the folks I know who are looking for tablets and if they can’t get that, they should at least try for an alternative movie/video premium service. 
In short, many of the problems I had learning and feeling comfortable with the device could have been addressed with just a little fit and finish work. The Dell Streak Tablet I’m using is more finished, but is also powered by the older Froyo version of Android. 
Wrapping Up: The 4 Year Old Test
I’m thinking the final test for any tablet should be to give it to a 4-year-old, have them open the bowser, find and download a movie or book, play a song, install and play a game, and access email.  If they can figure out how to do all of that, the device is easy enough to use. If they can't, the UI needs to be made easier and more intuitive.
The point I’ll leave you with is that when a product is unfinished, as Honeycomb is, it provides an opportunity for hardware vendors to differentiate, which is something they’ve wanted for years. But if they don’t put on the finishing touches, the user doesn’t want a kit product and the result just doesn’t sell well.  

For someone willing to put in a little elbow grease and who wants something decidedly different than the iPad that they can connect to a TV, the Iconia is a nice alternative. However, had Acer done just a little more work, it could have been a vastly better product.   

In the end, someone has to own the customer experience. Right now, with Android Honeycomb, no one is  doing that well, at least, not yet. 

So, regardless of whether Google broke Honeycomb intentionally, it has given the OEMs the opportunity they wanted to differentiate by fixing or finishing the OS.