Analysts Mull the Meaning of the Google Tablet Rumor

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-13

Analysts Mull the Meaning of the Google Tablet Rumor

With Apple shipping more than 450,000 unit of its iPad tablet in less than a week, the way has been cleared for platform providers such as Google and Microsoft and computer makers such as HP to begin offering their wares in earnest.

The New York Times reported April 12 that Google is mulling the notion of building a tablet based on its Android operating system. The company has been reportedly talking with publishers about putting books, magazine and other content on the device.

The device could run Google's Chrome Web browser and would support Adobe's popular Flash software, the technology Apple kept off its iPhone and iPad much to the outrage of developers who acknowledge Flash as the industry standard.

Google declined to comment, so eWEEK polled several industry analysts about this news and, not surprisingly, learned that none were surprised.

After all, Archos already offers an Android tablet and the Dell Mini 5 is based on Android. Notion Ink, ViewSonic and others are also polishing their Android slates. IMS Research said these machines will combine to give Android 24 percent of the tablet computer market in 2010, second to Apple's 51 percent with the iPad.

That means that iPad will command more than double the market share for Android tablets this year. Moreover, if Google releases a Google-branded tablet, will it do so through its Webstore the same way it offers the Nexus One smartphone? By all accounts but those of Google and manufacturer HTC, the Nexus One sold poorly since January, fewer than 200,000 units.

To that end, eWEEK suggested to analysts that Apple had perhaps beaten Google, Microsoft and others to the punch on tablets with the iPad. Couldn't Apple extend its lead with the iPad similar to the way it shot up to 25 percent smartphone market share with the iPhone in less than three years? 

Analysts took that bait but most would have none of it. The consensus is the tablet market is too small and nascent yet to declare a winner. Apple may have gotten the consumer tablet market started with the iPad, but it won't end with the iPad. At least, not for some consumers who don't worship at Apple's altar.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa

Hilwa said that as the Internet expands its reach into people of all ages and walks of life, it is clear that more than 90 percent of everyone needing access to the Internet will be much bigger consumers of content and data than producers.

"Most of us, even those that author content, spend 90 percent of our time consuming it. Thus it is not hard to see that the potential opportunity here is enormous and potentially larger than the PC market in the long run. Given this dynamic, every major platform vendor will want to have a play in this space. The successful devices have to offer compelling usability, performance and simplicity of access. This is the magic behind the iPad."

"The Android devices have not missed this market. We will be in the early stages of this market for a couple of years. I would not be surprised to see a Microsoft Windows Phone 7 based device and a RIM device all announced in the next six months."

Apple iPad Ahead, but Not Necessarily for Good

Jack Gold, of J. Gold Associates

"I think this market is so new that no one, including Apple, has really consolidated a position in the market that would preclude others for entering. This is really an experimental market. We don't yet know what features tablet users require (e.g., true multi-tasking, not Apple's limited version).

"So I don't think Apple has built up an insurmountable lead. I wouldn't sell Apple short, but I also don't buy them as the market dominating leader either. And don't forget, there is a significant Android following out there (just as there is a significant Apple following). I suspect that will make a difference in what consumers buy."

For example, Gold noted that Apple's strategy of shutting Flash from the iPad, could be a competitive advantage for an Android tablet:

"There is a huge amount of Flash-based content currently on the Internet. iPad does not display that content. So iPad users have a significant amount of content they can't view on the iPad from the Internet. Android and Chrome have Flash capability, so out of the box, they can enable users to view that content and not create a "firewall" against that content. Is that a reason for consumers to buy Android? It may be...

"But at the end of the day, it will likely be about usability and features that will create the market leading devices. And of course, the overall ecosystem of OEMs and applications available to the end user. Android marketplace is growing quickly and I wouldn't bet against that ecosystem being one for Apple to reckon with."

Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin

Golvin believes the emerging tablet market is so incipient that terms such as "head start" and "catch up" aren't applicable. He noted that Nokia had a tremendous head start on smartphones, still owns significant market share, but is becoming nearly irrelevant in the category. Golvin agrees with Gold that Flash could be a nice differentiator for Android:

"Undoubtedly Android and Google will counter the perception of Apple's "control freak" approach by presenting themselves as embracing the open Web, including Flash, and allowing developers to build apps using whatever tools they prefer. That is the most likely battle line we'll first see drawn.

"Answering the question of "what's it for?" is fundamental to the success of not just an Android tablet, but to the success of the category as a whole. Unfortunately, experience tells me that the Android tablet developers will not be as successful in that endeavor as will Apple, simply due to their exceptional marketing skill and their customers' willingness to accept Apple's pronouncements as fact."

Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle

Enderle said that is a bit embarrassing for Google that Apple got such a Web-centric device as the iPad to market first, but he doesn't expect the big ramp for these devices to occur until 4G is more widely deployed and related costs are much lower so both Google and Microsoft have a little breathing room.

"However, we did see the iPhone corner the profit in the smartphone segment and the phone vendors have struggled to close this gap using a similar model to the one Google is using so it wouldn't surprise me to see Apple wipe the floor with Google again. Google's Nexus One was a huge disappointment which likely showcases Google's inability, even with leading technology, to get consumers excited about their products.

"Microsoft has similar problems as they face off against Apple in this new tablet space even though they have had tablets for over a decade. Google is spread too thin, doesn't like to complete things, and can't spell marketing all of which doesn't bode well for any vendor competing with Apple."

Now that the analysts have had their say, eWEEK would like to turn it over to you, dear readers. What do you expect a "Google Tablet" to be like and how do you expect it to far in an iPad dominated market?


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