Apple’s iPad 2 announcement strategically targets Xoom

by Phil Hornshaw

The Motorola (MMI) Xoom, a flagship Android tablet and the first to carry the new Honeycomb 3.0 OS specifically designed for tablets, hits store shelves tomorrow -- and today, Apple (AAPL) fired off invitations to a press event it’s holding next week that hints at an iPad announcement.

Tricksy move there, Apple. Xoom’s release has been heavily touted, with all the cool new features of Honeycomb to go with it. Right now, the Xoom’s dual core processor and a few other significant features, like the front- and rear-facing cameras, set it ahead of the iPad, but it might be a different story come Apple’s event on March 2.

If Apple does, in fact, bring out a new iPad, it’s a fair bet that it’ll at least meet most of its Android competitors in terms of technology. It’ll almost definitely be priced competitively, though, which will probably keep it below Xoom’s contract-less price tag of $800.

The rub for Android and Xoom, though, is that lots of consumers who might have considered going with the Xoom could hold back and wait to see what Apple turns up, as PC World points out. The Xoom release is sans-Flash, which also stacks against it pulling tablet customers. And while Google (GOOG) is sending out the Honeycomb software development kit to developers today, Xoom’s launch might just be shaping up to be unfortunate timing, and too little to really make the splash for which Motorola and Google are hoping.

PC World’s review of the Xoom mentions that the tablet struggles at launch, but could be a strong challenger against the iPad in the future -- just not right now. The tablet is getting pretty good reviews, but going toe-to-toe with Apple the way it now has to isn’t going to go well. The iPad is simply too powerful, and the Xoom at launch isn’t powerful enough. It won’t be the iPad killer Android enthusiasts hope.

The solution? Withdraw, regroup and come back stronger. Honeycomb still has a lot of people excited, as does the Xoom, and despite Apple’s iPad announcement, Xoom still has time to come back even stronger. The tablet will be upgradable to Verizon’s 4G LTE network in the near future, which could be a very big deal especially if Apple decides to opt out of that technology for another year. With the Xoom, Motorola and Android have time to launch the device, test the waters, see what works and what doesn’t with its apps, and make adjustments.

From all accounts, the Xoom is really the first true competitor to the iPad, and it measures up fairly well with people who want a strong Android alternative. But the trouble is converting more customers to the Android cause -- that’s where Xoom will struggle, but that’s also where Motorola and Google have the chance to make the greatest gains. They also get whatever time Apple is about to provide, be it a month or two or even more, to zero in on making the Xoom the best tab it can be right in time for the iPad 2’s launch.

It might seem like Apple’s iPad 2 event could take the wind out of Xoom’s sails, but really, it might give the tablet a peek at the competition. Motorola has a chance to position its tab to sit right next to the next iPad and demand that customers compare the two. It also has a chance to make sure that the comparisons are at least equal, and perhaps even weigh in Android’s favor.