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Xoom hits shelves Thursday, without Flash

by Phil Hornshaw

Motorola’s (MMI) Xoom, the flagship Android tablet that carries Google’s (GOOG) Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system, is already hitting stores for its release this Thursday. But bad news if you’re hoping it grab one to get your full Internet experience, because like the Apple (AAPL) iPad, the Xoom will be Flash-free -- at least at first.

Flash will make its way to the Xoom, but not until “Spring 2011,” according to Mashable’s report. That’s a big disappointment for users expecting Flash on the first big Android tablet -- and apparently, that’s a lot of people. Adobe (ADBE) has claimed that the Android Market has seen six million Flash Player downloads in the last six months, and that another 20 million smartphones had Flash Player 10.1 installed when they shipped, or were upgraded to it later. And one of the big criticisms of the iPad for a year now has been its lack of Flash capabilities, despite the fact that Flash eats up battery and often doesn’t perform well on mobile platforms.

Xoom makes up for one of those shortcomings by including a dual-core processor that gives it more power to work with than the iPad has, but battery life is still an issue when it comes to Flash. Even so, the point is moot at least for the moment, and Xoom loses one of its big selling points going into launch.

Adobe’s slow response to getting a solid Flash alternative for tablets is causing a lot of video publishers to head the way of HTML 5. Steve Jobs has referred to Flash as a dying technology, and if Adobe can’t get some support for the incredibly fast-growing tablet market, Flash really could die out. Meanwhile, Google and Motorola aren’t able to deliver on a feature they’ve been seriously hyping, which doesn’t bode well for Honeycomb or the Xoom.

The biggest drawback of the lack of Flash is that it leaves the Xoom a little more vulnerable to another big concern of the new tablet -- its price. Motorla’s device is substantially more expensive than the comparable iPad edition. Xoom weighs in at $800 if you pick it up at Best Buy (BBY), whereas the 32GB iPad only runs at $729. Apparently you can grab the Android tablet at Verizon (VZ) and get it subsidized down to $600 with a two-year data contract, which would buckle users to about $20 a month for 1GB of wireless data over Verizon’s 3G network. Even so, iPad wins the battle of the price tag.

Xoom has a lot of other great features and better hardware than its iOS rival, which could still help it compete well. Verizon is giving all Xoom owners a free upgrade to its 4G LTE network later in the summer, and the tablet includes front- and rear-facing cameras, a dual-core processor, an accelerometer and HDMI output.

All those things are great, but Flash gave the tablet something clear and simple that it could do as an everyday feature that the iPad mostly doesn’t (there are apps that can be purchased in the iTunes App Store that will play Flash on websites, however). Motorola and Google obviously need to find additional cool features to highlight that can grab the same kind of attention and make the same easy sense to consumers. Adobe’s Flash Mobile 10.2 just isn’t complete yet, and despite the company repeatedly claiming the new system is coming soon and will be super-great for all users’ mobile Flash needs, it’s clear that relying on Adobe to get things together isn’t working out.