The first strategy is to quietly negate tablets completely. Google has had an agenda to aggressively increase smartphone screen sizes with every handset it has designed. It started with the 3.2in T-Mobile G1 in 2008, jumped two screens in 2010 – first to 3.7in with the Google Nexus One then 4in with the Nexus S – and this week the Samsung Galaxy Nexus was unveiled sporting a monstrous 4.65in display. Given the 5in Dell Streak was considered by some to be a tablet in 2010, it shows the shift in mentality Google is driving. In a future of big screen smartphones (Toshiba has just unveiled a 6.1in, 498ppi display) and Ultrabook-style thin and light, increasingly finger-friendly laptops (and Chromebooks) interest in dedicated tablets could well wane.
If not Google is beefing up its thin content services in any case. YouTube is evolving to become Google’s Cloud-based iTunes with film rentals hitting the UK this month and the same service has just been extended to Android Marketplace. Meanwhile Android boss Andy Rubin confirmed on Thursday that the company is “close” to agreements with labels to launch a proper music download store with “a little twist“. After all if Amazon is in a position to virtually give away the Kindle Fire and make most profit by selling content through it (think printers and ink cartridges), Google needs similar leverage.
As is stands Google tablets remain in an uncertain position. The company clearly had no great interest or plan for tablets when the iPad confounded sceptics and were Google allowed a do over it would almost certainly have written off a limp 12 months and launched its first tablet with the unified design of Ice Cream Sandwich. That slow start has seen analysts claim Apple’s advantage will now last beyond 2017, but again it was analysts who three years ago claimed the now fading netbook category would ship 50m units in 2012.
The truth is tablets have been a bitter and unexpected pill for Google to swallow and it appears to be simultaneously plotting their downfall as much as planning for their success. With time Android may yet enjoy the success on tablets it has enjoyed on smartphones, but we get the feeling Google would really prefer them to just go away…