On June 27, Google officially announced the Nexus 7 tablet during the opening keynote of their annual I/O Conference. This announcement comes just a week after Microsoft’s “surprise” announcement of the Surface for Windows tablets. With their new offerings, Google and Microsoft have both demonstrated that they are determined to take on the iPad’s dominance in this space. But the question is, will either company be up to the huge challenge?
So far, the only Android-based tablet that has had even a modicum of success is the Amazon-branded Kindle Fire. Furthermore, the Fire has demonstrated that this is not a zero-sum game. There is room in the market for others to have success without having to unseat the reigning champion, Apple’s iPad. So far though, no Google-backed tablet has found any of that success.
Microsoft hasn’t had any better luck with tablet computing. Ironically, Windows has been running on “tablet PCs” since before the iPad or even the iPhone. However, when the iPad came along it changed the rules of the game, and Microsoft has been slow to adapt. They have yet to deliver on the promise of a competitive product for this market.
And so both companies have changed their approach. Taking a page from Apple’s book, they have introduced a product that they control from both a software and hardware perspective. This approach is not entirely new for Google, as they’ve employed it with their Nexus-branded phones. But for Microsoft in particular it represents a radical shift in direction. And I think it’s the right move.
Apple is obsessed with the total user experience, which is why their products have such mass appeal. From the way the hardware feels in your hands to the natural user interface, they focus on every possible detail. The approach of designing software to run on unknown hardware doesn’t allow for that level of perfection.
Now that they’ve solved that issue, I think Google and Microsoft have two more hurdles: fragmentation and third-party software.
In order to succeed, Google needs to solve their fragmentation problem and quickly. With only 7% of users on Android 4.0, that doesn’t bode well for version 4.1. Microsoft doesn’t have this problem, but they need to tread carefully and not create one with their Metro-and-classic-Windows-in-one approach for Windows 8. Consumers don’t like complicated choices.
In my mind, the app issue is the biggest challenge that remains for both companies. Apple has a thriving App Store with hundreds of thousands of apps designed for the iPad. Google has relatively few tablet-specific apps and has struggled to match the App Store in terms of developer appeal. And Microsoft has barely begun to foster its own application ecosystem. For Google and Microsoft, attracting high-quality apps to their platforms will be the deciding factor in getting their new products off the ground.
How do you think that the Google Nexus and Microsoft Surface tablets will fare?