Asus Transformer Prime still mostly MIA, but still getting an Android update

Last spring I was shopping for an Android tablet. I'd narrowed it down to two choices: the Asus Transformer and the Acer Iconia A500. I was leaning towards the Asus because of its unique dock that turns it into what is essentially an Android laptop. There was just one problem: even though the Transformer was 'launched' I couldn't find it in stock anywhere. So I went with the Acer (and I've been very happy with that decision, as it turned out).

This winter it seems like Asus is repeating its mistakes. The Asus Transformer Prime technically shipped in December but supplies have been very constrained. When I checked for stock recently I found the Tegra 3-powered tablet out of stock at Bestbuy and Amazon had some listed, at hugely inflated prices, from third-party sellers but had no stock of its own. Once again it's next to impossible to find one of these newly-launched devices to purchase.

Luckily for Asus this time it doesn't have the same level of competition that the original Transformer had; as of today there are no other Tegra 3 tablets shipping, so impatient shoppers like me can't jump ship and go with another brand.

So that's the bad news. The good news is that while the Transformer Prime launched with Android 3.2, we now know when the update to Android 4 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) is coming: January 12th (according to the Asus Facebook page). Whether this means Asus is planning to have significant stock in the channel by then, we still don't know. Asus says that they are doing their best "to fulfill the incredible demand."

Well let's look at the glass as half-full. By the time we can walk in to a retail store and pick up an Asus Transformer, it should be running Ice Cream Sandwich and hopefully have any glitches ironed out. (Am I being too optimistic here?)

Another concern in the hacker community is that the Transformer Prime ships with a locked bootloader, which prevents, or at least makes much more difficult, installing custom ROMs on the device. Asus says that they had to lock the bootloader for DRM reasons. Content providers want devices to be as secure as possible (says Asus).

But all is not lost, and the company says it'll release a tool that'll allow you to unlock the Prime's bootloader, though doing so will void the warranty and you'll no longer be able to rent videos from the Android Market. I'm curious to know if third party apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus will stop working, too.

Asus needs to get its ducks in a row, and quickly. It won't be the only Tegra 3 device available for long, and once again I'll dredge up Nvidia's Jen-Hsun Huang quote that these devices will be going for $299 in 'a couple of quarters.' By the time the Prime is flowing into the retail channel nicely, we may have other, cheaper options.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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