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Forced Medication: Why Google Hasn't Taken To Tablets

Gordon Kelly

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This week Google fixed a flaw that never should have existed in the first place: it sewed its smartphone and tablet operating systems back together. This has rightly attracted a great deal of praise and huge amounts of media attention, but arguably what is more interesting is why the tear was there in the first place.

"Honeycomb was like: we need to get tablet support out there," admitted Android's head of user experience Matias Duarte in an interview on Tuesday. "We need[ed] to build not just the product, but even more than the product, the building blocks so that people stop doing silly things like taking a phone UI and stretching it out to a 10-inch tablet. So that was the mission, and it was a time-boxed mission. Any corner we could cut to get that thing out the door, we had to."

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This is a startlingly frank admission and as close as you'll ever find a multinational corporation's senior executive to admitting it released a product it knew was a botch job. More than this it is an admission Google was behind the curve, that it was being reluctantly forced down a path it hadn't yet planned to tread. That tablets have always failed historically may provide some justification for this, but more worryingly it is Google's core business model which makes them a hard fit.

Tablets are fundamentally about consuming content. Google is fundamentally about finding content. It is a crucial near miss. Whereas the iPad's early launch saw it snag the lion's share of third party app development, Apple was also crucially able to flood it with content. Music, television, films, iBooks… all things Google currently has to outsource. Apple had iTunes, Google is working on attaining the equivalent of iTunes, but Google Music has so far proved a half measure, its eBooks project is on hold because of legal action and the less said about Google TV, the better. Worse still none of Google's hardware partners have the resources to assist. The notable exception is Amazon and it buried Android deep under the surface of the Kindle Fire and has been actively looking to purchase its own platform. Make no mistake Amazon is a Google rival and alongside Apple it looks like the best equipped to conquer the mass market.

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Look away from mainstream consumers and you find the iPad dominating the enterprise tablet sector too with RIM the next obvious contender. Switch the focus from content to productivity and a reinvigorated, reimagined Microsoft looks set to take that market in 2012 with Windows 8. Yes when it comes to tablets it is worryingly tough to see where Google fits in.

Of course Google wouldn't be Google if it didn't have a few irons in the fire…

KultiVator

October 24, 2011, 8:29 pm

I'm not buying this... it's one thing to state Google were less than prepared for the unexpected success of tablets - it's something else altogether to claim that Google wish tablets would go away.

Matt

October 25, 2011, 2:56 pm

I agree with KultiVator. Google were so busy trying to catch up with the iPhone that they just hadn't really considered tablets. Previous tablets had failed as they had just been laptops with the screen on back to front, rather than a giant iPod touch. They put out a rush job to try to catch up with the iPad, and now they're doing it properly.

Phones will never grow to be anything like as big as tablets, since anything much over 4.5" (diagonal) starts getting ridiculous. And that's still less than 1/4 the screen area of a tablet. The main reason for making screens bigger is that for most specs 'bigger is better'. So companies are testing whether this proves a selling point vs. the iPhone, which seems fixed at 3.5".

The iPhone's screen size may tied partly to allowing compatibility with iPod docks that fit a Classic, but comfortable one-handed operation is useful too.

Gordon394

October 25, 2011, 11:01 pm

That's why this is called 'Opinion'.

Gordon394

October 25, 2011, 11:02 pm

It would certainly be simpler for Google had they gone away. That fact is indisputable, so it seems perfectly fair to assume it would prefer this route. Hopefully Google will make a compelling tablet, but so far it has spent 12 months treading water.

Daniel Gerson

October 26, 2011, 1:06 am

I think you're spot on Gordon.
I'd also be backing Microsoft in this boxing match.
Google is unlikely to win the immediate next round... but they'll be waiting in the wings.

I think longer term, it's all how the Internet develops that determines where Google's place in tablets will be or not be. I think it would be beneficial for Google to follow Microsoft into Games (xbox)....

KultiVator

October 28, 2011, 7:32 pm

But Gordon - Google aren't in the business of making tablets, no more than Microsoft are in the business of building desktops, servers, laptops and Netbooks.

I'm sure Google also don't mind the kudos of there being thousands of different me-too android tablets out there all running their skinned Linux with cloned Java-Sandbox platform - even if 99% of these are shockingly gimped products.

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