Friday, February 25, 2011

Xoom Needs a Hardware Upgrade To Use Verizon's LTE

As the second generation of Apple's iPad arrives, Motorola's Xoom may find Verizon's 4G LTE network an advantage -- but there's a catch. The LTE upgrade for the Xoom requires hardware, not software, so the Xoom will have to be returned to Motorola. The Xoom will also need upgrades for Adobe Flash and to read data from its microSD slot.

Motorola's Xoom tablet Relevant Products/Services, which hit the market Thursday, may soon need all the help it can get to compete with Apple's fast-selling iPad Relevant Products/Services as the second generation of the iPad arrives. The ability to use Verizon Wireless' long term evolution 4G network could be an advantage.

Verizon, the Xoom's exclusive carrier, announced Friday that the 10.1-inch tablet with a one-gigahertz dual-core processor -- the first to run Google's tablet-optimized Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system Relevant Products/Services -- will be upgradeable to LTE connectivity, enabling download speeds of five to 12 megabits per second. That's enough, the carrier claims, to download a song in four seconds or watch a movie with no buffering.

The Catch

But getting access Relevant Products/Services won't be as easy as waiting for an over-the-air update. It will require a hardware Relevant Products/Services change that can only be performed by Motorola, with a six-business-day wait plus shipping time. And users will have to back up and remove any confidential data Relevant Products/Services before sending the Xoom in.

That nuisance could be a setback for average-user adoption, along with the $799 initial price tag. A $600 Wi-Fi-only Xoom is reportedly in the works, and Verizon sells the current Xoom for $599 with a two-year data contract.

"The Motorola Xoom is clearly positioned as a device Relevant Products/Services for prosumers and business professionals," said mobile-devices analyst Jeff Orr of ABI Research. Prosumers are customers who straddle the professional Relevant Products/Services and consumer markets, such as small-business owners.

"One can argue that [the Xoom's] sole tie-up with Verizon Wireless is limiting -- U.S. only; not on every carrier; no Wi-Fi-only model, etc., but [Motorola and Verizon] have shown success with their Droid smartphones."

Whether there is a significant demand in the budding tablet market for a mobile Internet device that essentially replaces or augments what smartphones and laptops already do remains to be seen, Orr said. "The good news is that vendors are considering the audiences and uses of a media tablet outside the home," he said.

Showdown Ahead

In addition to the necessary hardware upgrade for LTE, the Xoom will also need software upgrades for Adobe Flash graphics and to read data from its included microSD slot.

While the Xoom holds some advantages over the current iPad with its dual-core processor, front and back cameras, and the sleek multitasking capabilities of Honeycomb, the iPad 2 likely to be unveiled next week at Apple's big media event in San Francisco is sure to pack plenty of surprises. Both AT&T and Verizon currently sell the iPad along with data plans.

One of the big questions is whether Verizon's version of the iPad will be LTE-compatible at any point. Orr sees that as unlikely. "There's not enough of a market for it yet," he said. "They only have 38 markets lit up in the U.S."

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