Google may be planning to enter the tablet market in the medium term — and not just as a partner in an OEM relationship.
Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that “in the next six months we plan to market a tablet of the highest quality.”
Certainly Google’s Android has powered more than its fair share of tablets that have come on the market over the past year or so. Most notably, Amazon’s Kindle Fire is based on Android.
However, assuming the meaning hasn’t been lost in translation, the remark suggests that it will be Google’s own tablet that the company will be marketing.
Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
The Next Step
The idea that Google might be developing a tablet of its own makes a certain amount of sense.
“The main objective would be to create a reference product and showcase that an Android tablet would be a viable competitor to the iPad,” Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told TechNewsWorld.
“2011 has been a challenging year for Android tablets,” she noted, “and Google could try to change that in 2012.”
The Nexus Brand
If Google is indeed taking this route, one likely vehicle would be its Nexus brand, which has traveled an unusual path in the mobile space. When the Nexus handset was first introduced, it flopped with consumers, in large part because of the way Google marketed it.
Though reviewers generally characterized it as a highly capable phone — if not the “superphone” Google had promised — it was relatively expensive, and it had to be purchased online without the benefit of a carrier subsidy. It quietly became a favorite of Android developers, though, because it sported a “pure” form of Android.
In recent months, Nexus has shown signs of making inroads in the consumer market, particularly with the introduction of the Galaxy Nexus.
Still, it hasn’t made enough of an inroad to justify a tablet release under the brand, according to Arvani.
“I would think Google would want it to be a marketing tool to promote Android capabilities on a tablet to their OEM vendors, as much as or more than they would want to promote a Google tablet to the end users,” she said. “It would make sense for them to use the Nexus brand to keep it alive and going. But given the low penetration of that brand, this product will be helping build the brand rather than taking advantage of it.”
The Software-Hardware Connection
Another view, though, is that Google has had enough of the many variations of Android developed by its OEM partners and wants to take steps toward closing the gap between its software and other people’s hardware. A Nexus tablet, properly marketed by Google, would be a good starting point.
“The issue with the Android tablets is they tend to be all over the map in terms of design and experience, appearing too difficult to use and too hard to learn against the simple elegance of the Apple product,” Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group told TechNewsWorld.
With the Kindle e-reader and now the Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon has shown that a tech company can move into the hardware space to build a consumer-pleasing device, he noted, “but Google has a history of not completing projects and then under marketing them.
“The Nexus phone is kind of targeted at the geeky side of what has become a geeky platform — Android — and has carved out an engineering-centric niche,” he pointed out.
That isn’t the same niche they are after with the Nexus tablets, however, Enderle added, “and that could mean a disconnect.”
Lessons of Google+
Still, if Google demonstrated anything with the rollout of its Google+ social network, it’s that it is willing to keep trying something even when the first endeavor is less than successful.
“I think Google has taken a lesson from Apple and decided it is more important to closely link the hardware to its software,” Phil Simon, author of The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google Have Redefined Business, told TechNewsWorld.
“The different reviews of Android aren’t uniformly positive,” he said. “Also, I do think Google wants better control of the app ecosystem as well. My hunch is that Google will try this — and if it doesn’t work, might try it again at another point.”