Google’s Chairman Eric Schmidt sent the tech world abuzz with comments he made to an Italian newspaper about the search giant’s plan to “market a tablet of the highest quality” in the next six months.
Schmidt’s comment led to a slew of articles speculating that Google plans to bring out a Nexus brand (a name Google’s used for smartphones) tablet to take on the iPad, though he didn’t provide that level of detail. He did say there will be “brutal competition” between Apple and Google’s Android in the smartphone market.
Analyst Jack Gold notes that the six month timeframe offers clues to Google’s plans. For example, the company is still waiting for regulatory approval of its acquisition of Motorola Mobility and could be planning to offer a new tablet through that group.
“If they have Motorola, why bring out a Google-branded tablet?” said Gold, Principal Analyst with J.Gold Associates.
Let’s assume Google or its Motorola Mobility branch will bring out a new tablet by this June. What are the “must-have” features it will need to compete with the iPad 2 and not be bowled over by the iPad 3?
1) A new version of Android
Yes, Google has already released the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android that’s the first designed for smartphones as well as tablets. But Google’s release cycles are pretty frequent and Gold says even this new version of Android is still more oriented to smartphones. “You won't get a truly universal version of Android for all smartphones and tablets, but they need one for developers that’s more universal than Ice Cream Sandwich."
2) A smoking fast processor
Analyst Maribel Lopez doesn’t put much stock in any company leapfrogging the iPad anytime soon, but says there’s room in the market for some strong alternatives. She thinks Google might be considering one of the new quad-core processors -- Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor or Nvidia’s Tegra 3 -- to power its next tablet. Another possibility is Intel’s new “Medfield”, which is the first SoC in the Atom line the chip giant is pushing device makers to adopt.
3) Killer touchscreen
The iPad gets high marks for its virtual keyboard, but it’s still not big enough for some fat fingers and the lack of tactile response takes some getting used to. Lopez thinks keys big enough for most fingers and perhaps some other innovations (audio touch feedback is already available in Android tablets) could be a great feature.
4) A great browser
Google is no stranger to browser technology and perhaps it can leverage some of the expertise in its Chrome browser group to produce a truly tablet-oriented browser that simplifies access to content and different kinds of media. Meanwhile, Mozilla just released a version of Firefox for Android this week that’s optimized for tablets and looks pretty slick.
5) The right price
If Apple brings out the iPad 3 in March or April of next year as expected, it may also keep the current iPad 2 on the market at a lower price -- $349? $399? -- for the entry level, WiFi only model.
So what should a Google/Motorola tablet of “the highest quality” be priced? Is $399 low enough to attract would be iPad buyers? Or will the cost of the latest technology force Google to stay at $499?
When Google brought out the first Nexus phone it saved distribution costs by making it available exclusively via the Web. That more limited distribution spared Google from some of the criticism that its hardware partners received.
Still, an aggressively-priced, widely distributed Google tablet isn’t going to make its partners happy, and there’s a company in Redmond, WA that would love to take its business when Windows 8 is ready for primetime. Google needs to tread carefully here.