An inexpensive Android tablet could be just what Google needs to attack Apple.
Last month, Schmidt said that Google was developing an Android tablet "of the highest quality" and that it would arrive within about six months. A report from DigiTimes on Thursday suggests that the tablet will be a Nexus-branded device, will have a seven-inch display and a $199 price point, and may arrive as early as April.
We all know how (un)reliable DigiTime's "industry sources" can be, but does the idea of an Android Nexus tablet even make sense?
Android tablets have been anything but successful over the course of the last year. At CES 2011, hardware makers debuted more than 50 Android tablets, most of which failed to reach store shelves. Those that did manage to make it to retail failed to grab a significant share of the tablet market from Apple's iPad. Android-based tablets make up a pitiful 3.3% of the entire Android ecosystem.
I've test dozens Android tablets in the last year. Most of them are capable machines, though not without quirks. Take the new Motorola Xyboards being sold by Verizon Wireless, for example. Both models have good designs and an excellent set of features. But will Motorola and Verizon sell millions of them? Probably not.
The idea behind Google's Nexus concept is to offer developers a native platform for app development and the pure Google experience. We have that already in the Galaxy Nexus, and the Nexus S and Nexus One before it. According to Google's developer website, any app written to work in Android 4.0 will function equally well on smartphones with 3-inch displays and tablets with 10-inch displays. That alone seems to negate the necessity for a dedicated tablet development platform, though it still makes sense on a gut level to have a base machine for testing.
Perhaps what's most interesting about DigiTimes' report, however, is that the Nexus device will have a 7-inch screen, a $199 price point, and will target the Kindle Fire, not the Apple iPad. That's an altogether different tablet story.
Based on reports of holiday sales, devices such as the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook were popular gift items and may have stolen significant tablet sales from Apple. One of the big attractions to these media-focused devices is their lower-than-the-iPad prices. The base Kindle sells for as little as $79 and the Kindle Fire goes for $199. The least expensive iPad starts at a more daunting $499.
Google could bring a smaller tablet to market with the help of Motorola, which it is in the process of acquiring. Such a device, with a Kindle-esque price point, would be a much bigger danger to Apple's share of the tablet market than the fully-featured $800 machines being sold by HTC and others. Obviously, such a machine would also undercut Google's own hardware partners. Even if Google targets the Kindle Fire with a $199 tablet, it is still targeting Apple.
The linchpin will be the quality of the device. One of the reasons the iPad is successful is because it is a high-quality machine that delivers on its promise of mobile computing. While "high quality" and $200 would seem to be mutually exclusive in this market, stranger things have happened.
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