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Bright future for tablets

Last week was a big one for tablet computing. Google formally showed off a version of Android for tablets, and Apple and News Corp. jointly unveiled the long-awaited daily “newspaper” for the iPad called The Daily.

Neither announcement came as a surprise, but together they spell a bright future for tablet devices.

Apple has sold nearly 15 million iPads since it first went on sale in April. That’s a lot more than many analysts expected. Android 3.0, code named Honeycomb, is a new version of Android that Google says was “designed from the ground up for devices with larger screen sizes, particularly tablets.”

It looks as if Google hopes to do to the iPad what it did to the iPhone — cut heavily into its sales. Android sales early last year were neck and neck with iPhone and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry. But in the past six months, according to Nielsen, “Android is clearly in the lead with 43 percent of recent acquirers purchasing an Android device, compared to 26 percent for Apple iOS and 20 percent for BlackBerry’s RIM.”

Of course, that could change once the Verizon iPhone is released Thursday. There undoubtedly are some potential Android phone buyers on Verizon who might opt for an iPhone once they have the choice.

Based on what I’ve seen of Honeycomb, it’s likely to allow a number of manufacturers, including LG Electronics and Motorola Mobility, to produce tablets that will seriously rival the iPad in terms of quality, potentially at lower prices. But Apple isn’t sitting still. There are widespread reports that an “iPhone 2” will come out within the next few months with front- and rear-facing cameras and other features not on the current model.

As with the iPad, we can expect to see lots of apps for an Android tablet. Google has an ecosystem of developers second only to Apple it can call on to make Android tablets come to life with programs and content.

Shortly before Google held its Honeycomb news conference in Mountain View, News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Apple iTunes honcho Eddie Cue held a news conference in New York to announce The Daily, a new iPad-only daily “newspaper.” Like News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal site, but unlike most other editorial websites, The Daily will be available only to paying subscribers after a two-week free trial period now under way.

I downloaded The Daily App from the iPad App store shortly after noon eastern time, when it was released to the public. The good news is that it’s beautiful. I give News Corp. credit for coming up with a 21st-century newspaper that combines text, graphics, video and social networking in a single app. With an initial investment of $30 million, The Daily plans to deliver up to 100 pages of content a day.

But — at least on Day One — I found The Daily to be disappointing because the news wasn’t as fresh as it was on many online news sites. The company said it plans to update the content throughout the day, but there was no evidence of that Wednesday.

Printed newspapers like the San Jose Mercury News and the many papers that News Corp. publishes have a good excuse for not being able to update their printed editions throughout the day. But if you’re going to create an electronic news source it had better be more than up-to-date. It has to be up-to-the-minute.

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