Although Google has yet to confirm that it’s working on a tablet computer that would compete with the iPad, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the search giant will try to supplant Apple as the leader in that market. The move underscores Google’s willingness to take on Apple anywhere it believes it can turn a profit.
Thanks to its reliance on advertising, Google is able to turn that profit in ways that, so far, Apple has not. That has helped it look beyond search and find other areas, specifically the mobile market, in which to expand.
But whether or not Google can enjoy the kind of success with tablets that it does online is unknown. The tablet market is in its infancy and not even Apple has been able to carve out a dominant share of the space yet.
At this point, the tablet market is up for grabs and it’s entirely possible that with the right product and hype, Google could turn Apple’s iPad into the other tablet on store shelves. Of course, doing so won’t be easy, and Google needs to be careful that it doesn’t make moves that would drive consumers to the iPad. But it is possible for Google to build an iPad killer. It just needs to do it the right way. Here’s how:
1. Offer a multimedia store
If Google doesn’t deliver a full iTunes-like store with its iPad killer, the device will be a failure. Consumers buy tablets to use them as more than just computing devices. They want to be able to listen to music and podcasts on their tablets, and view movies and television shows. They can’t do that easily without the help of a single store that houses all that content. Apple’s iTunes Store is perfect for consuming entertainment, but Google doesn’t currently offer anything of the sort. If Google wants to beat the iPad, developing an iTunes-like marketplace is step one.
2. Invest in Android Market
As soon as multimedia content is readily accessible on Google’s tablet, the search company needs to ensure that the applications that are currently available in its Android Market will work with its tablet. As Apple has shown, the iPad is a far more viable product when users can download applications to extend its functionality. For example, the iPad comes without a weather app. But thanks to the App Store, users can download a great weather app for free. If consumers don’t have that option with the Google tablet, it will significantly hinder Google’s ability to compete in the market. Android Market will be a Google tablet’s best ally.
3. Support Flash
Although Apple is doing its part to see that Flash dies a slow and agonizing death, it has a long way to go before that can happen. Realizing that, Google should support Flash with its tablet. Google’s decision to support Flash should have little to do with Apple’s battle with Adobe and more to do with the one glaring fact that Apple is trying desperately to work around: The majority of video and games on the Web cannot be played on an iPad. If Google can come out and say Web videos and games will work on its tablet out of the box, it could be a major advantage for Google.
4. Offer 3G on every version
Apple currently only offers a WiFi version of its iPad. The WiFi-and-3G version of the tablet will be making its way to Apple stores by the end of April. Apple must have believed that it needed to include an option that didn’t feature 3G, but that may not have been the best move. Google can offer tablets that feature 3G but don’t require users to connect to the mobile network unless they want to. It’s a similar strategy that Apple is following with the iPad 3G, but it gives all users the ability at any time to connect to a 3G network. Tablet owners want choices. Google needs to remember that.
A Google Tablet Must Hit the iPad at Its Weakest Points
5. Bundle Google Docs
The iPad supports Apple’s office productivity suite, but users need to pay to access it on the iPad. Google can one-up Apple by offering its free Google Docs suite at no charge. That would significantly help the search giant appeal to enterprise users who want to have quick and easy access to a simple productivity tool.
6. Invest heavily in touch mechanics
If Apple has done one thing right with its iPad, it’s getting the touch mechanics down. The iPad simply does a better job than any other device on the market at responding to touch commands. If a Google tablet can’t offer equal or better functionality, it has no chance of supplanting Apple’s product as the top tablet in the space. Realizing that, Google needs to invest heavily in touch technology in the tablet. If it can deliver a viable experience, it can more readily take on Apple.
7. Built-in turn-by-turn directions
Built-in turn-by-turn directions might not seem like the most important feature that Google needs to include in its tablet, but it could easily differentiate the tablet from the iPad. Currently, the iPad supports Google Maps, allowing users to find directions to their desired destination. But it’s not a full Garmin-like experience out of the box. If Google wants to differentiate its tablet (and it should), building full GPS functionality into it would be a great first step. Users would need only to access Google Maps, input a destination and receive full turn-by-turn directions (and voice commands) as they drive at no additional cost. Tablets are supposed to be mobile companions. Why shouldn’t they double as GPS units?
8. Connectivity is everything
A glaring omission in the iPad is its lack of USB connectivity. Apple has said it will get around that by offering accessories that will allow users to connect USB devices to the iPad, but that’s doing too little, too late. Google has an opportunity to best the iPad if it can offer at least one USB port in its tablet. That would eliminate the need for consumers to buy an add-on to connect USB tools and give Google another differentiating factor from Apple. Connectivity could become one of the most important reasons to buy a Google tablet over an iPad.
9. Printing is a must
Another major drawback of the iPad is that it doesn’t support printing. So, if a user types up a document or receives an important e-mail from a friend or colleague and wants to print it out, he or she can’t. If Google builds printing into its tablet, it can once again appeal to enterprise users who are looking for more than an entertainment device. The ability to print could also appeal to consumers who, upon realizing that the iPad isn’t a end-to-end replacement for a laptop, are looking for a device that really can replace a notebook on a daily basis. Printing could do wonders for a Google tablet.
Prior to Apple’s unveiling of iPhone OS 4, multitasking in a Google tablet would have been a nice addition. But now that Steve Jobs has made it clear that multitasking is coming to the iPad later in 2010, it’s now a requirement in a Google tablet. If Apple offers the ability to run multiple third-party applications at the same time, while Google’s tablet doesn’t, we can pretty much write Google’s device off. Whenever Apple is in a market, looking like the hobbled alternative is never a good thing. The only way to beat Apple is to best it on almost every front. Not having multitasking would almost guarantee that Google’s device would fail.