Google's tablet strategy: Follow, follow, follow

Google needs to push a new tablet model---like a free device supported with ads---if it's going to be a player. Following Apple and Amazon isn't good enough.

Google will roll out a tablet with Asustek that goes for $199 and is aimed at Amazon's Kindle Fire. Wrong target.

According to Reuters, an Asustek exec pre-empted Google's keynote to spill the beans about the tablet, which wasn't much of a secret anyway. Google needed a 7-inch tablet since Amazon took Android, remade the OS and sold a bunch of devices.

Tune in to CNET's live blog from the Google I/O keynote starting at 9:30 a.m. PT Wednesday.

The unfortunate thing for Google is that it's aiming at the wrong rival. What Google really needs to do is launch an array of tablets powered by Android that can roughly match Apple's iPad. The price: Near free.

Also: Google's 7-inch Android tablet should be $149, not $199Google appears to aim low with new 7-inch Android tablet

In other words, Amazon's move to subsidize e-readers with special offers and ads could easily be ripped off by Google. After all, Google is an ad machine.

Instead, Google partners with a hardware ecosystem that can't match Apple's supply chain. If Google really wants to be a tablet player---prosumer, consumer or business---it needs to hand out devices like Chiclets and make the difference up with those lucrative blue contextual links.

Google also needs to play to its strengths. Apple's strengths are integrated software and hardware with a supply chain that's second to none. Amazon's strengths are turning devices into commerce kiosks. Microsoft is pushing the needle with its tablet designs, but will leverage Office.

The search giant to date hasn't worked Android only apps or cooked up models that are differentiated.

Google's tablet strategy looks a bit messy. Roughly speaking, Google's tablet plan goes like this.

  1. Follow Apple.
  2. Follow Amazon.
  3. And maybe even follow Microsoft's Surface.

Bottom line: Google is following the tablet parade. It needs to lead.

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