Google’s tablet story: A lack of vision.

According to documents (via The Verge) presented in the Oracle vs. Google trial over copyrighted Java technology used in Google’s Android OS, Google expected to take around 33% of the tablet marketshare in 2011 by selling 10 million tablets to consumers.

The documents go on by detailing another expectation: 2012 they wanted to sell (obviously through OEM’s, as Google doesn’t sell it’s own tablets yet) about 10 million more tablets.

Lofty expectations that didn’t quite materialize.

All research points to less than 10 million tablets, running Google’s Android OS, in the hands of customers. Andy Rubin himself said during AllThingsAsia in October of 2011 that there were 6 million of them out there.
Considering the lackluster sales of Android-based tablets since then, it’s fairly easy to see that Google massively failed to deliver the forecasts they themselves made.

What went wrong?

I think Google totally overestimated their pull with the carriers – worldwide. The carriers are interested in pushing Android smartphones bcause they get customers locked in into a two-year contract, and because they can add bloatware and skins to the phones. All of this equals revenue for them.
This doesn’t work too well on tablets. Apple set the standard: pay as you go, no contracts. And that is precisely what people expect of tablets, but that’s not what the carriers want. They want their customers to get another data plan. In order to get that they subsidize the price of tablets, but even the most basic math skills tell us that these tablets a immensely expensive.

The next problem that was facing Google was, and still is, the ecosystem. A tablet is basically all screen, so it matters profoundly what you can do with that screen. The Android market…ehm…Google Play…isn’t there yet, and probably will never be.
There’s a simple reason for that: Device fragmentation.
I’m venturing a guess right now, but I believe that there are about 20 different screen sizes and formats, with about 100 different resolutions on the market. This must be a nightmare for developers, and that’s not even accounting for the software fragmentation, which is pretty obvious.

Then there is the race to the bottom issue. The OEM’s can’t compete with Apple’s ecosystem, or it’s supply chain fu, so they try to differentiate themselves with obscure formats, resolutions, add-on’s, etc., and they cut down component cost by, well, using cheap components and materials.
What is amazing to me is that they still, for the most part, can’t compete on price. Sure you can buy an “Android tablet” for 199 Euros, but you instantly see what you get at this price point: A glorified e-reader, and a cheap looking and feeling one at that. That’s not what people want.

I’m not saying the tablet market will always be like this, but right now, and for the foreseeable future, the tablet market is the iPad market.

What can Google do?
Well, that’s the real question here, and I don’t think that Google can do much of anything. If they tighten their grip on what hardware the OEM’s can use to get the best possible Android experience, they run the risk of OEM’s just forking Android, much like Amazon and Barnes & Noble did. Imagine Samsung doing that. Android on tablets would be dead.

Since that’s not an option, they could (and probably should) get their Android team to work extremely close with the soon-to-be acquired Motorola tablet team. They need to work on a Nexus tablet, but not the way as is widely reported right now (subsidizing, cheap components, 199 price-point, etc.).

They need to reinvent their whole effort, change their philosophy radically…
Built one or two Nexus tablets, with Jelly Bean (the next version of Android) in mind.
Double down (Hi Andy!) on the ecosystem by building Google apps that adhere to a strict UI/UX design. Update them regularly.
Give developers tools compareable to the IDE Apple provides.
Don’t announce before you can ship. Don’t over-promise and constantly under-deliver.
In other words: Get real.

I have very little hope that they will though. Google is engineering-driven at the core, and business-driven (ads) at the top, which is fine if you work there, but it doesn’t translate to what the 99% want.

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One comment on “Google’s tablet story: A lack of vision.

  1. The resolution fragmentation is a serious issue, I hope they sort it out soon…

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