Google is planning to sell tablets branded with with the Google logo in an effort to better compete with Apple’s iPad. Citing unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google will be working with Android device makers to develop new tablets, and that it will sell those tablets through its own online store.
Google Tablets - Now With More Unicorn!
The move would edge Google a tad closer to Apple’s whole widget business model, and it would also signal that the company is dissatisfied with its Android licensees when it comes to the tablet market.
For instance, Google briefly sold its own Android smartphone, the Google Nexus One, in 2010. It was a device that was praised when released, but it never saw robust sales. This was most likely a by-product of the lack of subsidizing deals with U.S. carriers, leaving potential customers to pay the full retail price.
The key, however, is that Google eventually stopped selling the the Nexus One and didn’t replace it with another Google-branded device. The company has since cited the the wide array of competitive Android smartphones that subsequently entered the market, and today Android has majority market share over Apple’s iPhone. In other words, Google no longer felt the need to offer a Google branded device because its OEM partners were doing quite well.
The tablet market has been a different kettle of fish altogether. Apple’s iPad created the market in the first place, and despite wide boasts and wider expectations that Samsung, Motorola, Asus, Acer, and a seemingly infinite array of Chinese OEMS would due to iPad what was done to iPhone, the iPad continues to remain supreme.
Are Your Experienced?
Our premise for this phenomenon is a simple one: Internet access is the killer app for smartphones, while the overall user experience is the killer app for tablets.
Android smartphones can access the Internet just fine, for all and intents and purposes, just as well as the iPhone. This has played well to the strengths of open licensing, which results in hundreds of competing devices being offered across a wide range of prices.
The overall user experience, however, plays directly to Apple’s strengths of offering a curated App Store, tightly integrated software and hardware, and economic realities that make Apple the price leader in tablets. Android can’t touch that, and the proof is in the results. Apple is expected to maintain 73% of the tablet market this quarter, results similar to the way the iPod dominated and still dominates the MP3 player market.
The only tablet that has really seen success is Amazon’s low-end Kindle Fire. While it runs Android, it’s a forked version of Google’s operating system without Android’s look and feel or direct access to Google services.
Instead, Kindle Fire has a custom Amazon-built interface that acts as a direct conduit to Amazon products. It’s a vehicle for selling Kindle books, ordering physical goods from Amazon, and pushing Amazon Prime subscriptions for those wanting to watch video content on the 7” device.
At $199, it’s cheap, slow, and made of plastic, but that price point has been enough to get millions of people to buy one, and future iterations of the device will no doubt offer improved hardware.
In other words, Kindle Fire hasn’t done a darned thing for Google other than prove that demand in the tablet market is based on the user experience and the ecosystem, something Google’s version of Android simply doesn’t have.
Never Surrender, Never Give Up
Google hasn’t been complacent, however. The company recently brought all of the Android content it could to one place, Google Play. Apps, TV shows, movies, and books for Android tablets are all under one digital roof, coming that much closer to Apple’s iTunes and Amazon.com’s digital Kindle offerings.
This is a big step forward for Google, in our opinion, though the company still has a variety of other issues that are part and parcel with its come one, come all open licensing strategy.
Google stepping in and working with its OEM licensees to develop new tablets is another positive move forward. While we would like to see the company be even bolder and embrace the whole widget model using its Motorola Mobility acquisition, putting its fingers in the development pie with its top OEMs will at least ensure that some tablets are more tightly integrated with Google’s Android software.
At Last, the Online Store for Tablets!
Will selling them online at a Google-owned store help, too? This seems a tad more iffy to us. The reason Android tablets aren’t selling isn’t because no one can find them—they’ve been available at big box retailers and electronics stores all along, and are still widely available on Amazon’s site, even though they compete with Kindle.
They aren’t being bought because there’s nothing much to do with them, many can’t be upgraded, and there’s simply no real ecosystem for the devices (see above for notes on the experience). Offering a variety of devices under one Google roof certainly won’t hurt anything, but it’s not going to be a magic bullet to dramatically goose sales.
Google CEO Larry Page really seems to have taken the late Steve Jobs’s personal advice to focus on fewer products and to make them great. The company has shed dozens of minor projects, and it has been focusing on such things as user interface in products like Google+ and its other online services. As noted above, Google Play is also a good step towards building an ecosystem that can result in the kind of overall user experience that will actually appeal to people.
Getting involved with the development process is another positive step forward. Making an experience is something companies like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola Mobility are simply ill equipped to do, but by butting in and exerting pressure on form factors, performance, and adherence to standards (assuming that will be part of this effort), the company can help overcome the deficiencies of its OEM partners.
To really bring it home, though, Google is going to have to take even more ownership of its tablets if it wants Android to be competitive in the market Apple built. We would be surprised if the company was willing to do so.
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