Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

Summary: I'm not sure if any manufacturer can seriously challenge Apple's iPad; Google just might stand a chance.

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OK, so the Nexus One was a commercial failure. It was an idea that was before its time here in North America (where, unlike in Europe, the idea of buying an unlocked, unsubsidized phone went over like a lead balloon), lacked support for the right carriers, and was dismally short on customer service in true Google fashion. Whatever. A Google tablet, on the other hand is a no-brainer that, for many obscure reasons, we'll probably never see.

Citigroup, FBR Capital Markets and Gartner all recently released tablet sales predictions for 2011. As reported by AppleInsider,

...reports from each differ widely on the number of tablets that will be sold next year, but all agree Apple will lead the pack...Craig Berger of FBR Capital Markets says Apple will sell 40 million iPads next year, and that other makers will mange to sell another 30 million. He indicates that every 2.5 tablets sold will result in a lost PC sale, or a total of 28 million fewer conventional PCs.

So why does Google need to get in on this market? And why is it different from the phone market in which they performed so poorly? And why will they probably take a pass?

Because tablets are ideally suited for content consumption. Reading, surfing, watching, liking, sharing, you name it. And Google does few things better than index and/or aggregate content for consumption, at the same time selling highly profitable ads around that content. A Google tablet, optimized for access to all of Google's services and leveraging slick (but underutilized) tools like Fast Flip would get the company into the multi-million unit game from which they've largely been excluded (and give them access to a mobile advertising platform that current Android smartphones can't match).

Unlike with smartphones, North American consumers don't expect subsidies on their tablets. They expect them to be priced reasonably, but not necessarily cheaply, in line with an inexpensive computer. Apple has primed them nicely for that. Google also now has solid relationships with all major carriers, meaning that if they went the 3G route, they wouldn't be locked in to partnerships with less-than-ubiquitous phone companies (although a strictly WiFi device would probably see significant success without the phone company hassles or costs).

Google also has powerful content channels that could lend themselves to a tablet form factor, where the Nexus One, as an early adopter device, was much more about the new Android operating system. Google TV (including Netflix), Books, Reader, Picasa, Maps, Docs, and Video, as well as YouTube all would play very well with consumers, especially those who didn't want to be locked in to Apple's iTunes content ecosystem or wanted Flash to work on their tablets. Support is even less of an issue than it is with a phone, particularly if Google were to go with a WiFi-only approach.

Now is the time, all right (or at least when the tablet-optimized Android 2.3 is released widely early in 2011). But, unfortunately, I don't see it happening. There are many reasons, but all lead to one result: the iPad domination of this market that the industry analysts have predicted.

While a Google Tablet would be a device behind which developers could throw their muscle and support and could be a powerful flagship for Android as a tablet OS, it would also put a damper on growing manufacturer support for the OS. If Google were to produce an aggressively priced, high-volume, fully optimized Android tablet, would Dell or Acer have any real incentive to produce innovative Android tablets of their own? How would this really play with the Android-openness message that Google espouses to anyone who will listen?

As they are with smartphones, Google (and Android) will ultimately begin to dominate the tablet market through sheer volume generated by many device manufactures, mobile carriers, and distribution channels. It will take time (as it did with smartphones) and will lead to yet another fragmented Android platform (it's fragmented on smartphones and Google TV already), but it will happen.

I can't help but wonder, though, if this isn't one case where at least a reference design and more likely a Google-branded tablet might not be a better strategy for consumers, the company, and the platform. Time will tell, but the utter absence of any serious iPad competitors as we turn the corner into 2011 means that this coming year will be the year of the iPad, even if Android continues its explosive growth in the smartphone market.

Topics: Laptops, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets, Telcos

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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22 comments
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  • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

    sdxcv
    dsfihsdfkjh
  • If its not already in the advanced planning stages

    then forget it. At least for the next two years or so. Something like that needs proper planning to succeed, which Apple has obviously done, and Google/Android has not. I've tried the Galaxy Tab and its fine, but it doesn't have a use, especially if you already have an Android phone. They need find a purpose for this thing, then redesign a user interface and redesign apps to match that purpose.
    Michael Kelly
    • The dirty little secret is

      that since Google was kicked off Apple's board and no longer has a corporate spy inside the enemy camp, they don't have a clue how to make a tablet OS.
      frgough
      • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

        @frgough What is there to spy on. Its not like Apple actually engineered a tablet OS. They took their phone OS and optimized some things for the screen size....nothing more. The only reason Google is holding back Android on tablets is because they want to build better API's to handle the varying screen sizes. They didn't do it originally because they wanted Chrome on tablets.

        Either way once Honeycomb is released Android will take over the tablet market just as it has done with smartphones.
        storm14k
      • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

        @frgough

        If that's what he was, then doesn't that say quite a bit about Apple's management for keeping him on for so long?

        And I would hope Apple does not make product design decisions at the board level. That's a certain recipe for disaster. It's one thing to field ideas and get direction from the board, but design decisions should be made by operating management.
        Michael Kelly
      • Exactly

        @frgough
        I've notice that Google lost its "innovative" edge as soon as that scoundrel got kick off Apple's board
        iPad-awan
  • tablet optimized android OS will come in 3.0 honeycomb...

    i.e. [b]NOT[/b] 2.3 gingerbread.. you can google it.. Lenovo, Acer etc are waiting for honeycomb to release their tablets rather than producing giant phones like Samsung and Toshiba.. this is also the message from Google 2.x are not appropriate for tablets...

    why have you left Chrome OS off your analysis? how do you see Chrome playing into all of this.. seems to be conflicting reports right out of Google.. some saying Chrome is for netbooks and desktops (traditional non-touch computers)... others.. nope chrome is for tablets and traditional computers.. huh??
    doctorSpoc
  • Do you even read what you write?

    You claim Nexus One failed because no one in America likes unlocked unsubsidized phones (unlike those enlightened, sophisticated europeans currently throwing riots to keep their freebies), then listed no carrier support and crappy customer support. Well, then again, this is the kind of critical thinking I've come to expect from people in education.
    frgough
  • "Obscure reasons"?! They're the SAME reasons.

    A Google tablet would be a commercial failure for the exact same reasons the Nexus One failed. Do you actually think being "dismally short on customer service in true Google fashion" would be <i>less</i> of an issue with a tablet than with a smartphone? <b>Hell no!</b>
    matthew_maurice
  • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

    <i>"As they are with smartphones, Google (and Android) will ultimately begin to dominate the tablet market through sheer volume generated by many device manufactures, mobile carriers, and distribution channels. "</i><br><br>In order for them to dominate, there first needs to be a strong unified Android "platform" for tablets, tying all devices together. Think what MS tried to do with PlaysForSure to make it easy for consumers and OEMs alike, which still failed against a single strong integrated iPod+iTunes solution. It doesn't look like there would be a single strong unified Android platform for tablets. There will be multiple sub platforms, with multiple sub App Stores competing, multiple skins, with all types of inconsistent experience. Win Tablet PCs were more a unified platform than Android will ever be, thanks to MS putting requirements on OEMs. With Android's open nature, Samsung may lock you into their world, Amazon and Verizon may do the same with their own platform and own developers. Toshiba and Archos have their own stores (open??). Now let's add Chrome OS in the mix. Google haven't said much on the direction they're going yet, Chrome or Android? What a mess. <br><br>Like the iPod before it, it's easy to see consumers choosing the device that's well integrated, well marketed and easy to grasp, iPad.
    dave95.
    • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

      @dave95. I disagree. Theres a crowd that likes everything to be tied together under one roof and they will buy Apple. Theres another crowd that actually knows what they are doing with the products that they buy and wish to use them in conjunction with the other products that they buy based on which ones are best...not just which ones "work" with each other. Those people will buy Android devices.

      Actually this whole "fragmentation" "inconsistent" FUD is hilarious. Android devices continue to sell lot hotcakes. So obviously these so called drawbacks aren't stopping people from using their devices.
      storm14k
      • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

        @storm14k

        The majority of <b>these people</b> you speak of are currently called "geeks". ;-) Look at other markets, the geeks, or tinkerers, or those that likes to get their hands dirty only occupies a small niche segment of those markets. What Apple tries to do consistently is go after the wider gen consumer market that could care less about hacking their system or tinkering with their device (even though they could), they just want something that's easy to grasp, and for it to work as advertised.

        And the reason Android smart phones are selling? Carriers are able to be aggressive offering 2 for 1 subsidy or even free deals etc. Good luck getting gen consumer to walk down to his/her carrier store and sign a 2 year contract for tablets. Despite running the same mobile OSs, these are totally separate markets from the phone market. The tablet wars next year will be fought at your local electronic retail store (Best Buy, Frys, Walmart, Target, Sams...), which Apple already have a strong presence. Individual Android manufacturer will be competing with a device that have strong marketing, strong retail presence, the most accessory/aftermarket items, most lucrative app store with the most apps, a device that will continue to see product placements, are currently being adopted by the enterprise, education, government, airlines....

        What's funny, a few months ago when the iPad was released, pundits and readers alike were claiming how this device was nothing but a big iPod Touch, a fail. A Netbook was 100 times better. What do you do with an iPad? And now I'm hearing how easily Android will dominate this market that was so confusing to many few months ago.
        dave95.
      • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

        @storm14k

        [i]"Actually this whole "fragmentation" "inconsistent" FUD is hilarious. Android devices continue to sell lot hotcakes. So obviously these so called drawbacks aren't stopping people from using their devices." [/i]

        I am not going to comment specifically on the whole fragmentation issue but just as you say it's obviously not stopping people from buying Android devices, the "walled garden"/"closed system" that all the haters bash Apple for sure isn't stopping people from buying their products either.

        Everyone has different wants/needs and too many people don't realize that thinking what they want applies to everyone. There is room for all of us to get what we want. For some that will be an Android device they can tweak because they know how to while others it will be an Apple device because they don't know how to/want to tweak it. Many of the don't want to tweak it are very knowledgeable and could do the tweaking with their eyes closed but after doing it all day for work they don't want to do it on their personal devices, they just want it to work. Again, there is room in the market for both.
        non-biased
  • Google doesn't actually need to do anything but....

    ...finalize Honeycomb and finally allow the market on tablets. Just as they came from behind and overran the smartphone market Android will do the same with tablets. These OEM's are about to blow blood vessels waiting to unleash tablets to blow the iPad out of the water just as they have done with the phones.
    storm14k
    • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

      @storm14k Just as they have done with phones? Really, what phone is it that is outselling the iPhone? Remind me please, what phone is it that pretty much every other phone is compared to? Oh that's right, the iPhone.

      Overall the Android platform has surpassed the iPhone in US market share but to date no Android phone has outsold the iPhone 4 let alone the iPhone in general. I don't have any data on this but based on information I have seen I would hazard a guess that based on truly comparable phones (high end Android and the iPhone, not the low end Android devices) that iPhone still has the market share lead here in the US. Android is a great platform and there are a ton of options to select from but either you need to compare equivalent devices or include all iOS devices against all Android devices.
      non-biased
  • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

    ipad hasn't even had a year lead on android tablets. And unlike android phones, android tablet manufacturers are not going to wait and see. They'll jump on it. Even if ipad sells 11 million units by the end of 2010, it still wouldn't be enough. Intel states that close to 1 million intel PCs are shipped daily. Selling 15 million tablets is like having a 15 second head start in a 3 hour marathon.

    iphone had a 3 year head start on android phones. It wasn't enough.
    rengek
    • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

      @rengek What in the world does the number of daily Intel based PC shipments have to do with this conversation? By the way, the iPhone was release in what 2007 and the first Android phones hit the market in 2008 I believe. Not sure where you learned your math skills but if those dates are correct they had a 1 year head start, not 3 years.
      non-biased
  • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

    There is an Android tablet that can compete with the iPad and hopefully it will be available for purchase before Jan 1st.

    http://notionink.in

    here is a forum with a chart comparing the ipad, galaxy tab and the Adam from Notion Ink. make sure you take the second chart, the first does not have the Galaxy Tab.

    http://www.notionaddicts.com/forums/showthread.php/222-Notion-Ink-Adam-vs-Apple-iPad-Comparison-Chart?highlight=ipad+galaxy

    not sure why everyone dismisses this device everytime they talk about Android not having a decent Tablet. It is launching with 2.2 and 2.3 and 3.0 have been promised as "prompt" upgrades.
    aiellenon
    • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

      @aiellenon I think the reason it is dismissed is the fact that it's been mentioned in these talk backs for at least 6 months yet no hardware for anybody to actually try. It might very well become the most sought after tablet but until it hits the market it vaporware.
      non-biased
  • RE: Forget a Google phone - Google needs a tablet

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