Consumer electronics companies have been slapping Google Android on tablet-style computers since last year — but there are still very few Android tablets available for purchase in the US and Europe, despite dozens of devices showing up in China and at trade shows including CES earlier this year. And that’s largely because the operating system still hasn’t really been optimized for tablets. It’s designed for smartphones with smaller screens and the ability to make phone calls.
The biggest thing missing from the Android tablet experience is access to the Android Market. If you pick up a tablet like the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, you get a decent web browser and user interface, but you don’t have access to the official Google apps like Gmail or Google Calendar. And you can’t download the more than 50,000 apps available in the Android Market unless you install unofficial software that members of the Archos tablet hacking community have come up with to enabled Market access.
But we’re starting to see mounting evidence that Google does plan to offer a more tablet-friendly version of Android — or at least to offer access to the Android Market. First, when Google introduced the new Google TV initiative last week, the company mentioned that you’ll be able to download apps from the Android Market on Google TV devices. That’s the first time Google has acknowledged that you’ll ever be able to access the Android Market on something that’s not a phone.
Second, in an interview with Laptop Magazine, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said that part of the reason we haven’t seen any major companies put out tablets with NVIDIA Tegra 2 graphics yet is because Android isn’t ready for tablets… yet. He says that part of the appeal of an Android tablet is access to the Android Market, and he’d be in a pretty good position to know whether Google is actually planning to offer Market access to tablets. Either that, or NVIDIA picked the wrong horse and really should have pushed Windows CE as the operating system of choice for Tegra tablets.
He also seems interested in working with WebOS, the mobile operating system developed by Palm and recently acquired by HP.
Huang also seems to share Steve Jobs’ vision of tablets as content consumption devices rather than content creation tools. He suggests that there’s a “multi-billion unit opportunity” to develop netbooks and tablets for people to use when they want to consume content instead of creating movies, PowerPoint slides, or perform other complex tasks which might require a more powerful computer.