This Week Is a Coming-Out Party for Android Tablets

After nearly five months of owning the consumer tablet market, Apple’s iPad (s aapl) is about to face its first real competition in the form of expected Android (s goog) slate announcements at this week’s IFA show in Berlin, Germany. While several vendors have built Android tablets over the past year, none have rivaled the sales success of the iPad, mainly because the still-maturing Android platform wasn’t optimized for such devices. There’s still room for improvement if Android-powered tablets are to be successful, but for the first time that I can recall, these slates may finally appeal to consumers, especially as faster, dual-core processors arrive. It’s no coincidence that before the curtain falls at IFA, Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, wraps up the show with the final keynote.

You Say You Want Resolution. The first major shot to be fired in the tablet war is expected from Samsung later this week as it will unveil the Samsung Galaxy Tab at the IFA show in Berlin this Thursday. “Unveil” may be too strong a word, however, due to various image leaks and teaser videos of the 7-inch touchscreen tablet. Based on those, it’s likely that Samsung has overcome a key challenge that I identified previously: the limiting maximum 854 x 480 resolution supported by Android 2.2. The official specs hit in two days, but investigative review of code for the tablet indicates it will run a more effective 1024 x 600 resolution. If true, the Galaxy Tab will offer a higher PPI, or pixels per inch, bringing greater screen clarity than Apple’s current iPad.

You Can Buy Me Apps. A clear screen is only part of the picture, however. While Android’s web browser is fairly comparable to that of the iPad — and supports the Adobe (s adbe) Flash Player 10.1 — consumers crave apps. Unfortunately, no prior Android slates have offered official access to Google’s Android Market, so the devices have been hobbled with workarounds, direct installs from developers and unofficial marketplaces. Much of the iPad’s success — and that of other iOS devices, for that matter — is directly related to application ecosystem Apple introduced back in 2008. Without such an ecosystem, Android tablets don’t have a chance for mainstream consumer success. I’m anticipating that Google will finally adjust the device requirements needed for Market access, starting with the Galaxy Tab and continuing with many tablets to follow.

You Want A Top Performer. In addition to Samsung, it’s likely that Toshiba will enter this market at the IFA show as well. Details about the Folio 100 with its 10-inch touchscreen leaked earlier this week and if correct, the specifications show a high-powered device thanks to Nvidia’s (s nvda) Tegra 2 processor. Carrypad has benchmarked the Toshiba AC 100, a smartbook that has similar guts to the Folio 100, and found that certain performance marks exceed that of the Google Nexus One running Android 2.2 by a factor of three. The device can also flawlessly play back a 1080p video file at 13 Mbps bit rate, showing performance prowess that could sway some from an iPad to an Android tablet.

Every Journey Begins With a Single Step. Other manufacturers, such as Acer, ASUS, and Viewsonic, are sure to follow Samsung and Toshiba with Android tablet announcements this week, because the combination of powerful mobile hardware and improved software is finally available. After months of platform maturity, Android device manufacturers are poised to make a play in this market instead of watching Apple’s iPad gobble up millions of sales per month. Much like the first iteration of Android handsets, these tablets aren’t likely to do more than make a small dent in the tablet market. But as Google continues to add features with future versions of Android, broaden its application ecosystem and work with hardware partners to get Android everywhere, the iPad could finally face some stiffer competition in the coming months, starting this week.

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