An old friend is back as Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) foe.

Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI-WI) -- yes, that's the new ticker since M-O-T split into two companies this week -- introduced its XOOM tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show yesterday.

As the first device running Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) tablet-centric Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system, Motorola isn't simply resting on its laurels as the first mover. The XOOM specs are pretty darn impressive:

  • The 10.1-inch screen supports HD video at 1080p with an HDMI output for larger screens.
  • It is powered by a dual core processor, combing a pair of 1 gigahertz cores.
  • There's a front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera that shoots high-def video (in 720p).
  • Unlike Apple's iOS gadgetry, XOOM supports Adobe's (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flash.
  • Built-in gyroscope? Barometer? E-compass? Accelerometer? Adaptive lighting? Connectivity to Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) popular wireless network? Yes on all counts.

In short, the first Honeycomb tablet's got big, big taste in a big, big bite.

Friendlier times
Apple and Motorola were chummy in the 1990s, as two-thirds of the PowerPC triumvirate that powered Macs until Apple broke up the band in 2005, hooking up with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) for its microprocessor needs.

Coming out with an iPad killer would taste like sweet revenge for Motorola.

It's already taking its shots.

In a clever promotional video released a few weeks ago, a camera pans through a museum with famous tablets over the years including Moses' 10 commandments and the Rosetta Stone on display. Every tablet is captioned with a benefit, but its glaring weakness is also pointed out.

The camera then pans to the iPad.

"It's like a giant iPhone, but ... it's like a giant iPhone."

Nice shot, but the ad doesn't end there. Motorola even takes aim at its Android buddy, Google, since the next museum case displays the Samsung Galaxy Tab that turned heads when it sold a million units in its first two months on the market.

"Android OS, but Android OS ... for a phone."

The museum teaser finally pans to a draped tablet with the Motorola logo at the base.

Well, the XOOM is draped no more.

It won't be easy
Motorola's XOOM will hit the market later this quarter through Verizon as a 3G/Wi-Fi-enabled tablet. It will be available on Verizon's new 4G LTE network next quarter. This means that it should beat Apple's iPad 2 to the market if Apple waits until the early April anniversary of its original tablet to roll out its successor.

Motorola didn't reveal pricing, or if Verizon will be subsidizing a good chunk of the price in exchange for two-year contract commitments. Tablet fans who don't want to spring for a data plan may also out of luck, since Motorola isn't detailing when a Wi-Fi-only version will hit the market.

However, in a week that will be loaded with more tablets than an aspirin bottle, it may be hard to top Motorola's bold entry. Several weeks ago, it seemed as if Research in Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM) PlayBook would have the best shot at eating into Apple's early lead in this rapidly developing niche among the 2011 debutantes.

There's a real battle breaking out. Apple better not take its early lead lightly.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has an original iPad, but he may be tempted to stray this year. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.