The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Google will begin selling co-branded Android tablets, attempting to slow Apple's massive market share growth with the New iPad and a reduced-price iPad. Instead of getting into the OEM game, Google is expected to work with existing Android tablet-makers to market Google tablets through an online store and traditional brick and mortar retail outlets. But will it be enough to change public perceptions and get people to start purchasing Android-powered tablets instead of iPads?
Naysayers have been quick to point out the dismal failure of Google's initial efforts to sell their Nexus One smartphone direct to consumers and, as Jason Perlow noted recently, even their highest profile devices (including those from soon-to-be subsidiary Motorola) suffer from fragmentation, bloatware, and miserable update records. How will Google-branded devices (reportedly from Asus and Samsung) sold direct by Google and in retail channels (often right next to Apple devices) solve this problem that seems to be inherent in Android?
According to the WSJ article,
Google believes the current model for selling tablets is broken, said people familiar with its strategy. Google has watched as wireless carriers, who helped Android become the No. 1 mobile operating system for smartphones, have struggled to replicate that success with tablets...
...This time, however, Google won't have to worry about pairing with wireless carriers because tablets are primarily used with WiFi connections in people's homes.
The article also cited what may be a more effective strategy (one that has worked for Amazon with their Kindle Fire tablet): subsidizing the cost of the hardware sold under the Google brand. Google will also have the opportunity to heavily market the tablets and take advantage of its considerable reach online and, more recently, in traditional media, to capture potential customers and educate the market on the value of Android tablets. Unfortunately, many customers and more than a few analysts are skeptical about whether Android has any value at all in the tablet space.
I've argued for some time that Android will ultimately win the tablet wars, at least in terms of market share. Google's ability to market directly to consumers, though, is dubious at best. If it's going to keep new customers from simply defaulting to iPads, then it will be the potential for differentiation and market segmentation provided by Android and many OEMs that does it (just as it has in the smartphone wars); a Google online store won't exactly turn the market upside down.