"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," the saying goes.
Or in the words of Android boss Andy Rubin, "double down."
The Verge has learned from sources that Google intends to launch a 7-inch tablet in the coming months for $199, echoing several other reports in recent days.
Rubin has made it clear that Google intends to make another run at penetrating the consumer tablet market this year — a market that Apple utterly dominates by every metric — and in order to do that, it's going to need a game plan. "The educated consumer realizes it now that they're either picking the Apple ecosystem or the Microsoft ecosystem or the Google ecosystem... we're going to do a better job at making people understand what ecosystem they're buying into," he told us at Mobile World Congress late last month.
"Making people understand what ecosystem they're buying into" sounds like a strategy realized by stronger Google branding and a stronger Google hand guiding the market to where Rubin, Page, and Brin feel it needs to go. We don't yet know precisely how that'll play out, but it stands to reason that this relatively inexpensive 7-inch tablet, likely wearing Nexus branding, will factor prominently into the equation.
And as we said, the rumor isn't new. Google chairman Eric Schmidt said as early as last December that the company would have a "competitive" tablet on the market this year. DigiTimes reported last week that it was hearing about an Asus-sourced tablet around $199-249 for a possible May delivery, and now Android & Me claims to have some additional details from a staffer at a US supply chain company that peg the 7-inch device as low as $149. The story goes that Asus agreed to scrap its Eee MeMO Pad 370T when Google reached out to collaborate on a Nexus-branded tablet, which suggests the resultant model will take its cues from the canceled one — though A&M says the 370T's Tegra 3 processor has been scrapped, possibly to get the price point low enough. That seems odd considering how Nvidia proudly trotted the 370T on stage during its CES press conference just two months ago, but things move fast in this industry.
Again, we're hearing $199 for the tablet, not $149, but perhaps it'll be available at both price points depending on specs like storage or connectivity. Regardless, such a device is a clear and present shot across the bow of the Kindle Fire, the de facto owner of the low-end tablet market thus far — the "sub-iPad" space for individuals unable or unwilling to shell out up to $829 for Apple's 9.7-inch take on the "post-PC era."
Though it would never admit it, there's reason to believe Google has a bone to pick with the Fire: it's the device that effectively picked Android's lock with a well-orchestrated roll-out of a legitimate Android Market replacement, the Amazon Appstore, in time for the tablet's launch. The Market (now the Google Play Store) is the crown jewel in Google's ecosystem lock-in for Android, and Amazon successfully strategized a way around that lock-in. In other words, Amazon owns the sub-iPad tablet market using Google's software, and Google has nothing to show for it.
For Rubin — an individual who tends to exude pride and confidence — that can't sit well, and he'd undoubtedly love to steal that market back. Google has spent a year spinning its wheels in a campaign to gain traction against the iPad at the 10-inch form factor and has failed. The Fire, which lacks Google's branding and seal of approval, may be viewed by Google staffers as a sitting duck.
By all accounts, a fresh injection of close Google oversight in the Android tablet market is a good thing: regardless of the Galaxy Nexus's commercial success, it remains one of the best phones we've ever used. It's a halo product — a model for pushing OEMs in the right direction. It's far too early to say the Fire's got trouble on its hands, but at any rate, it's going to make a far easier target than the iPad has proven to be.