Everyone reading this knows about the Google Nexus tablet. It’s chock-full of hardware features and a new version of Android, that’s what we hear from press announcements and people who have used it. I’m sure Eric will post a review soon after Mobileslate gets its hands on one and that it will turn out to be a terrific product.
That doesn’t mean it will sell well. It takes more than some nice hardware and some upgraded software in these days, when consumers are cynical about almost any new technology product that doesn’t come from Apple. The challenge for Google is to first of all, rise above the hardware, and second, have a dynamic channel.
Taking the channel issue first and looking at the two big competitors in the tablet market, we see that both Apple and Amazon have websites that prominently feature their products. A simple trip to amazon.com and you see the Kindle Fire, along with the other Kindles, and you see their Android Appstore. Take a trip to the Apple home page and you can watch the new iPad TV ad. Visit google.com and there’s a search box. There is a menu bar at the top, but it offers search choices and the option to go to my google apps, gmail, etc. And if I choose to use that search box and type in “nexus tablet,” there isn’t a single google page listed.
Step two in the channel walk-through. If I want to buy a Kindle Fire, I don’t have to look farther than the Amazon home page for a link. If I want to buy an iPad, I can click on the iPad link on the Apple home page. But if I want to find somewhere that will be selling the Nexus tablet, I search on “nexus tablet retail” and find out that Staples and GameStop are carrying the tablet and offer pre-sale reservations now. Staples? The last time I was in Staples, or Office Depot or Office Max, the store wasn’t packed with people looking for new technology. There’s an Office Max across from one of the Best Buy location in San Francisco, and it doesn’t even get prices shoppers walking across the street.
I’m sure it will show up in Best Buy and maybe some of the phone stores. That’s fine for phones, because you have to sign your carrier deal. And it will be better than Staples and GameStop. But it’s not the same as having a home page on the web that pitches your products, and either the biggest retail site on the web or a premier brand retailer is going to attract far more customers.
Then we have the product. The problem, as I see it, is that it’s being pitched to hardware junkies, and that only goes so far. Consumers like great hardware, especially great screens, but the lead in hardware can only last for so long. The Kindle Fire 2, regardless of its real name, will be a major upgrade to the Fire and the comparisons with the Nexus now floating around the web will be of little use. Trailing in hardware features has yet to hurt the iPhone or the iPad.
Amazon is very aware of this and tailored the product to make it more than the sum of its hardware parts. This review from last year makes it clear what the pitch was. Sure it was a smaller tablet (highly desirable to me and others, obviously) at a great price, but the review hardly mentions that. It’s about the integration with existing Amazon services and payment. It’s about media consumption from a source integrated into the base product. It’s about a browser that offers significant advantages over other mobile browsers. Have we heard anything this user-centric from Google?
Another prime example about thinking through the conundrum of how to position its tablet offering is the Barnes and Noble Nook. They actively decided that having the entire Google Play catalog is not the way to develop a positive and elegant media consumption experience. They also chose to lock down the device, remove the ability to change the settings on several characteristics on the device. You might say that it’s silly to do so, but for the target audience, simple is better. The results are starting to show the fruits of their labor. Developers *are* generating revenue from Nook devices and the average price points are doing quite well. But the Nook went one step even further, where Amazon and Google cannot compete. When you physically take the Nook into a Barnes and Noble store, the entire inventory of books “unlocks” on your Nook and you can read anything in the store from your device. That’s a pretty amazing experience no other tablet OEM is offering.
I’m not predicting a flop with the Nexus tablet, but google’s propensity for starting things, not putting the right resources on them, and then letting them die or directly killing them is strong. There’s no evidence that google has put on a team of marketeers with strong consumer hard goods experience or channel managers who have a real handle on what it takes to drive business through retail. While google has a strong brand name for web goodies, the consumer-less google TV kiosks in Best Buy a couple years back show that it doesn’t pull in the retail environment. Yet.