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Apple’s iPad is certain to grab headlines when it hits stores next month. But a number of touch-screen tablets powered by Google’s Android operating system will also debut this year. Competing with Apple’s latest consumer gadget won’t be easy, but analysts say the software behind these devices could give them a few key advantages.

Like the iPhone OS, which will power the iPad, Android was originally developed for cell phones. This means it will be fast and low-power. “Android is very responsive; it’s instantly available,” says Jeff Orr, a senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research.

It can also make use of apps already developed for Android phones. “The real benefit [of using Android] is that it taps into this ecosystem of developers that have latched onto Android,” says Carl Howe, analyst and director of the Anywhere Consumer Research division of the Yankee Group. Most importantly, some of these Android devices come with features that the iPad currently lacks–the ability to run Flash, for example, as well as a webcam and software multitasking.

Several companies showed off Android-based tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Taiwanese computer makers Compal, MSI, and Quanta all gave demos of Android-powered devices with screens between seven and 10 inches and powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2 microprocessor.

Also at CES was an Indian company called Notion Ink, which demonstrated an Android tablet called Adam. The company showed two versions–one featuring a lower-power Pixel Qi display with three display modes, and the other featuring a regular LCD. The Adam also uses the Tegra 2, features a rotating webcam, and is expected to cost between $327 and $800. It is scheduled to go on sale later this year.

French computer maker Archos already sells an Android tablet with a five-inch screen called the Archos 5 Internet Tablet, for $499. And, perhaps most significantly, the third-largest computer maker in the world, Dell, is rumored to be developing a five-inch, multitouch, Android-driven tablet, which may be announced later this year.

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Tagged: Computing, Google, Apple, Android, iPad, tablet, interface

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