Google’s third strike, made worse by Microsoft’s sudden entrance into the tablet market as both an OEM and software maker, paints the last strokes of a picture that doesn’t look good for Android tablets. And even if we do see a $200 Nexus tablet announced at I/O next week, without a bevy of service and content partners or some truly radical changes to tablets in Jelly Bean, I just can’t see Google turning things around this year for Android tabs. Sure, shipments will go up, and more tablets will be sold, but as I hope I’ve illustrated adequately here, a cheap tablet isn’t the answer to Google’s problems. It might help, but it’s only a temporary solution. The real issues are much more fundamental.
Android tablets have serious underlying problems with content, apps,and productivity, not to mention increasingly large phones marginalizing their already debatable utility. Competition from Microsoft and Apple is only going to get tougher, while OEM partners producing Android tablets are likely to start getting discouraged by slow growth. With Microsoft licensing Windows RT, it may only be a matter of time before we see a Transformer or Tab RT. HTC and LG have already called it quits on tablets for the time being.
Fixing Android tablets is not a simple matter of getting developers on board with a Nexus device. It’s not just about signing more movie studios and record labels to the Play Store. And cheap tablets alone aren’t going to save the day. Only Google can do that, and it’s going to mean doing things that go beyond developing an operating system and putting it in the hands of manufacturers and developers. That strategy may have worked for phones, but as we’re seeing, tablets are turning out to be a whole other ball game.