Tablets set to multiply in upcoming tab wars

by Eric Benderoff

Is the iPad coming to Target? It may as an onslaught of tab competitors will arrive elsewhere shortly. Also in today's App Industry Roundup, Android bloatware could harm the platform's openness.

Tab wars

This fall, we will see an explosion of tablet computers ready to battle the iPad's early prominence in this new market. The list of entrants is long: a slate of Android-backed products (at least five, conservatively) that will get high-profile treatment from wireless carriers including Verizon (VZ), a product from BlackBerry (RIMM) that has been nicknamed the BlackPad, a possible Palm-based tablet called -- surprise -- the Palm Pad (but HP's recent purchase may slow that development) and then perhaps something for Microsoft (MSFT).

There won't be a shortage of tablets, and the real competition will come from the consortium of firms working on the Google-backed Android tablets. Many of these efforts will be slick, some will be "toes dipping into the water" and others will fail, like the crop of eReaders that launched last year and earlier this year but have not been able to compete with the Kindle, the Nook and the iPad.

The biggest push may come from Samsung (005930.KS), which is expected to soon introduce a tablet based on its popular Galaxy S line-up of Android phones. The Galaxy tab could arrive at all the major U.S. wireless carriers, just like versions of the Galaxy S phones.

Regardless, it appears Apple (AAPL) is gearing for a fight and looking to expand the distribution channel for the iPad. According to Engadget, the iPad may arrive at Target stores in October. The report isn't solid and Engadget is not putting any real weight behind the report (other than publishing it) so it's possible this story could refer to one or more tablet competitors, as the tech site notes the mysterious tab will be available in six different versions. (It could be the iPad: 3G wireless options plus different storage capacities can equal six models.)

Yet Google (GOOG) said last week that Android may not be ready for a tablet the size of the iPad. Hence the products we may see could be smaller versions -- such as a 7-inch Galaxy tab -- for the time being. In that case, the tabs will probably compare more favorably to a bigger iPod touch than the iPad. And then there's the notion of tablets based on Google's Chrome operating system.

Google is backing Chrome as an OS for portable computing. Originally, it appeared to be a netbook OS, but thanks to the success of the iPad and the apparent explosion of Android-backed tablets, Chrome could emerge as a popular choice for tablets.

Android bloatware

One of Android's great advantages may be turning into a problem, writes analyst and columnist Michael Gartenberg. In a piece for Engadget, he notes that more and more Android phones are coming with pre-installed apps that people don't want. The Samsung Vibrant, a Galaxy S phone from T-Mobile, comes with a copy of Avatar, for instance, while other pre-installed apps include Kindle for Android.

When Android launched, it allowed phone makers and wireless carriers to add a layer of software and/or apps to personalize the phone. Apple has never allowed AT&T to do this, and that is one reason why Verizon did not get the iPhone first. The freedom to individualize has been very successful for Android, the phone makers and the carriers, as the mobile OS is everywhere.

But has it gone to far? Gartenberg argues it has and could threaten Android's success.

"More and more devices I look at are coming installed with applications I don't want, often popping up messages to try and up sell me on services I have no interest in. Even worse, unlike PCs where offensive applications can be removed or the OS reinstalled cleanly, there's often nothing that can be done to get rid of unwanted mobile software without arduous work," he writes. "It's sad that Android's open and free ethos has been exploited by carriers and handset vendors as a way to maximize profits, gouge users and diminish the overall Android experience."

He offers a few suggestions to remedy this growing problem, including more aggressive steps from Google. Verizon should take note: putting the Bing search engine on the Samsung Fascinate might not have made Google happy.