Google, Microsoft Tablets Portend New Ecosystem Strategy

Google is expected to follow Microsoft's lead and announce its own branded tablet hardware next week. Why the change in tactics? Google and Microsoft hope to replicate Apple's successful iPad strategy of controlling every aspect of the product.

Eric Zeman, Contributor

June 19, 2012

3 Min Read

8 Tablets Fit For Windows 8 Beta

8 Tablets Fit For Windows 8 Beta

8 Tablets Fit For Windows 8 Beta (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Microsoft on Monday showed off its Surface tablets, one running Windows 8 and the other running Windows RT. These two tablets, however, were not designed and assembled from Microsoft's traditional hardware partners. Instead, Microsoft took care of that itself. Microsoft designed and built the first Surface tablets revealed during its event, and will have the rest manufactured with its brand, not Dell's, Asus's, HP's, or Lenovo's on the cover.

Google is expected to do much the same next week. Although Google clearly has offered a line of premium Android devices--a.k.a. the Nexus line--they have always been manufactured by another company. HTC made the first, and Samsung has made the second and third.

At the Google I/O developer conference, which is being held in San Francisco the week of June 25, Google will introduce its own Android tablet. A flurry of reports suggest that Asus will make this device, but it will be sold directly by Google via the Google Play Store and will not have software customized by the manufacturer, in this case Asus. It'll be a stock Android experience, much in the way the Surface will be a stock Windows 8/RT experience.

Prior to these announcements, both Google and Microsoft relied on hardware partners to make the actual devices. For Google, that means gear such as the Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab, or HTC Flyer. For Microsoft, that means devices manufactured by the likes of Motion Computing, Xplore Technologies, and Panasonic (if we look back at Windows Tablet Edition).

[ Read PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet. ]

Now, Google and Microsoft are changing their stance. Rather than have others make the gear for them, they are stepping in and doing it themselves. They've told us why. In so many words, they want to more effectively challenge Apple and the iPad.

The iPad has been the number-one tablet since its March 2010 debut. Its first year, it owned nearly 90% of the tablet market. That has eroded over the years thanks to a multitude of competitors, but the iPad still owns more than two-thirds of the tablet market. The iPad kicked off the tablet craze and has ushered in a new era of mobile computing. Google and Microsoft need to be sure they get in on some of that action. To date, their efforts haven't been effective. Sales of Android tablets aren't great, and Microsoft's Windows 8 designs won't get off the ground until later this year.

One of the chief reasons Apple has been so successful with the iPad is its approach. It owns and runs the entire ecosystem--Apple designs the hardware, designs the operating system, and designs the applications and accessories, and makes it all work flawlessly across its entire product range. Because Apple is in control of each piece of the puzzle, it all comes together smoothly.

That's what Google and Microsoft want. They want to see their own tablet puzzles form a complete picture, rather than remain a disjointed and half-finished framework. By stepping in and taking control of one of the essential elements--the hardware--Google and Microsoft have a better chance of succeeding.

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About the Author(s)

Eric Zeman


Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies.

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