T-Mobile launch 2009

According to Forrester, no Android tablet has eclipsed 5% market share. Despite modest erosion, Apple still commands the market with 73% share, a day ahead of its much anticipated iPad 3 (HD?) launch. It would make sense then, if the latest rumors are true, that Google take matters into its own hands. Word is that they are working on a $199 quad-core 7-inch tablet; the Kindle Fire squarely in its cross-hairs, despite the fact that Amazon’s offering runs on Android. It’s perhaps one more proof point that the new tablet/app model may follow in the footsteps of the razor/cartridge model. The profits are in the apps–zero incremental marginal costs to scale –not the dirt cheap hardware manufacturing.

Based on what we’re hearing Google’s Fire douser will be made by Asus. It will be powered by a quad-core Tegra 3 chip (no mystery there) and ship with Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich (ditto). Some reports indicate it will enter production in April, and begin shipping June.

Amazon moved about 5 million Kindle Fires in the quarter, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume Google could achieve similar results.

Except for three important things:

1. Google is poor at consumer direct, but Amazon…

Bo knows. And Amazon knows. You don’t win in online retail overnight. Google learned the hard way. Remember the original Nexus One smartphone? It was a solid product, and showcased the “Android experience.” Google decided to experiment and sell it direct to consumers. The result was a fracas. Google excels in cloud-based consumer services (search, mail, docs, calendar, etc.), but it doesn’t quite know customer service. To avoid a repeat with its tablet foray, Google should either let the carriers handle distribution (in itself a problem as it can mar the desired Android tablet experience), or, more likely, study how Amazon and Apple handle e-commerce, make massive improvements (i.e. simplify) before launching.

2. Content is (still) King

It’s a well-worn cliche, but, yes, content is king. We were saying it back in the late 90s, and we’re saying it again today. Only this time it’s not so much about web pages as it is about apps, music, and movies. Unfortunately this is another strike against Google. Look at Google Music, their attempt to take on iTunes and Amazon MP3. Like Google+ it’s struggling to gain traction. User counts are declining (I’m sticking with it though!). When it comes to content, and merchandising that content online, Google still has a ways to go (though, the Android Market is much improved – thankfully it doesn’t feel like “walking through a bad neighborhood” as I referred to it in 2010).

3. Samsung Galaxy Nexus didn’t take down iPhone

Yes, the new Nexus (Nov 2011) is a good Android, battery life withstanding. It features the latest and greatest out of Google product development (in Ice Cream Sandwich), a slick design with curved glass, and large hi-res 4.7-inch display. But it didn’t exactly dent iPhone 4s sales. Between the two phones I’d always take the former. I’m through-and-though an Android guy, and also an out-lier when it comes to mainstream buyers. If the Nexus experiment teaches us anything it’s that Google has a rabid, loyal fan base that is more readily identifiable as a niche than a large market segment that will help move the market share needle.

The bottom line is that Google will continue to make inroads in the tablet market. Android is the only credible threat to Apple iOS. That may change later this year when Windows 8 hits the market (and it does look promising). The lesson: the ecosystem and customer experience matter. You simply can’t take some juicy hardware specs, slap on a value-oriented price and expect something to sell. Why are we willing to pay $500 plus for an iPad in a world of cheap Android knock-offs?