Let's talk tablets.
Specifically, let's talk Nexus tablets. Forget, for the moment, that as yet there's no such thing as a Nexus tablet. And I'm willing to bet that if Google actually does make its own tablet sometime in the coming months, it won't actually be called "Nexus" anything. (I'll go one further and opine that perhaps the Nexus line has run its course, but that's another column for another day. You folks feel free to steal that idea in the meantime.)
There's been growing talk of some sort of Google-produced tablet. Whispers go back many months, and in December 2011 an Italian newspaper quoted former Google CEO and current Chairman Eric Schmidt as saying "We in the next six months plan to market a tablet of the highest quality." We've seen other posts from analysts and Digitimes (which covers Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers and often dreams up unicorns as often as it does actual products) that seem to corroborate that Google's producing something.
And on Friday we've seen further rumors from The Verge and Android and Me (who's been peddling this thing for a while now) going back and forth on pricing -- $149 of $199, either of which would be perfectly conceivable for an aggressively priced, Google-backed tablet. And specs, well, specs are specs. Maybe it'll be quad-core. Maybe it'll be dual-core. Maybe it'll have a display so great it'll make the new iPad look like the jacked-up resolution on your grandmother's aging laptop.
None of that matters.
From time to time you'll hear us joke about hardware rumors, saying something like "Breaksclusive! Next-generation hardware rumored to be thinner/lighter/faster than current-generation hardware!" Part of that's just us breaking Wheaton's Law. But that doesn't make it any less true. And in the case of Android hardware over the past year, it's been ridiculously true. I have no idea how many tablets Samsung has announced in the past 12 months. I'm willing to bet there are a great many people at Samsung who couldn't tell you without having to look up the number of tablet models it's released. It really just comes down to this:
The last thing Google needs to do is make Just Another Android Tablet™.
Think about it. What good would a "Google Nexus Tablet" be? What would it bring to the tablet table that we haven't already had for a year now? Thinner? Faster? Lighter? Inevitable. (To a certain extent, anyway.) Stock experience? The Motorola XOOM's had that for a year now, and most other tablets keep relatively the same experience. Price? What's a $149 Just Another Android Tablet™ going to do in the consumer space that the $199 Kindle Fire hasn't done already? Google's got the cash to eat the cost, sure. But Amazon's got the distribution pipeline, and the head start.
(By the way: Don't call this unicorn a Kindle Fire killer unless it's capable of sneaking into people's homes and disintegrating the millions of Kindle Fires already sold and is able to negate Amazon's current retail stance.)
I said this a long while ago in regards to the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich — the key is going to be software. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich meant relative fresh start for Android. That said, it's been a troubled birth, as we still have a scant few devices with ICS, though that'll start changing fairly soon. (Though certainly not soon enough.) The tablet rumors we've been reading all share a common thread — they're thinking too small.
The next version of Android — by all (unsourced and uncreative) accounts it'll be called "Jelly Bean" — has to be more than just an iteration of a mobile operating system. You've undoubtedly heard the rumors of some sort of Google entertainment system. Or that Google Play is the start of something bigger. All this, I believe, is true. If there's one thing we know about Google, its that it has much more patience than those of us who don't create things for a living. (And certainly more patience than those of us who report on things for a living.) Google's in all this for the long haul.
Google TV was a disappointment. Android tablets have, on a macro level, been a failure to launch. Smartphones stand out, but there's certainly room for improvement. We know this. Google knows this. Word on the street is that we're all about to get a big lesson in WiDi, which in and of itself presents its own questions. (For most people, that'll be "What the hell is WiDi, and what can I do with it?")
We'll likely get some answers come the Google IO developer conference in June. And I've got a feeling everyone's going to be surprised.