Digital platform could be helpful in Hollywood

Let’s get this out of the way: Motorola’s new Xoom tablet is no iPad killer.

But after bowing a little more than a week before Apple unveiled its new iPad 2, the Xoom is still a device worth Hollywood’s attention.

The tablet’s slim profile and large 10.1-inch screen should easily provide the entertainment biz with another opportunity for digital distribution.

The value of the Xoom as a new platform for programming should only grow in importance with Google powering the sleek tablet and giving the device a major marketing push. Google has already succeeded in turning its Android software into a dominant player among smartphones, and it wants a major piece of the emerging tablet biz as well.

It will soon have to fend off not only the iPad 2 but Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, LG’s Slate, the BlackBerry Playbook, Dell’s Streak and HP’s TouchPad.

What helps Google’s cause is that the Xoom actually works.

Plugging in a Gmail address instantly soaks up emails, contacts, calendar and Picasa photos, for example. Using Google Docs should prove a breeze with an available wireless keyboard. YouTube is the dominant video player, given that Google owns it. Google also has started selling e-books through an online store that offered up an impressive list of titles that were easy to read.

Other apps from the Android Market are similar to those offered on phones.

Browsing on the net is impressively fast, given the tablet’s Nvidia Tegra 2 dual core processor and Honeycomb operating system (designed exclusively to run a tablet). And typing on the digital keyboard is quick to the touch.

Still the Xoom has one major drawback: its $800 pricetag (which drops to $600 with a two-year-Verizon contract). Prices for the iPad 2 start at $499.

Motorola says the cost will be worth it once the Xoom starts connecting with Verizon’s 4G network, which will make downloading or streaming video and accessing websites much faster on the go.

An update will soon add Adobe Flash 10 to the device — without it, accessing the content on many graphically rich websites is impossible.

It’s also the reason why Netflix isn’t yet available on the Xoom, which is a big negative. The video quality on YouTube is still too low on the Xoom, despite its promises of high-resolution, making watching clips an annoying experience.

When that improves, however, it will be a formidable foe for the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen — as long as Hollywood figures out an attractive way to take advantage of it. The Xoom is the latest example of an electronics company saying, “Look at our cool new device! Now help us create the pretty stuff to put on it.”

Turning Xoom into more than just a Web browser, email or e-book reader or glorified digital picture frame will require improving its video quality. Google is surely working on that as it courts Hollywood content: In addition to a book biz, it wants to launch a movie- and TV-program rental service soon, as well as an iTunes-like music offering.

To put it simply, the Xoom has room to improve and, as Google is showing through its Android app store and operating system, new offerings and advancements are coming every week, which may not yet make the device an iPad killer but certainly a serious iPad competitor.

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