I was wrong about Google Nexus tablet

In December 2011, I asserted: "Google Nexus tablet in six months is a year too late". The search and information giant proved me wrong. After failing to quickly respond to iPad and leaving Android leaderless, Google has recovered with a bang-up Nexus device strategy. Damn, this is my second tablet mea culpa -- the first about iPad nearly 18 months ago.

Tomorrow, Google expands the number of available Nexus screens to three, all running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean: 4.7-inch smartphone that replaces Galaxy Nexus as flagship; 7-inch tablet updated with more storage for purchase price and new 3G model added; 10.1-inch slate with higher screen resolution than iPad 4. The devices are "pure Google" and produced by LG, ASUS and Samsung, respectively. The original Nexus 7 released in July, receiving rave reviews and generating, ASUS asserts, about 1 million sales per month.

So much has changed about the Android tablet market in the 11 months since my analysis -- hell, in just 6 months. Globally, during third quarter, according to IDC, Apple's tablet share was 50.4 percent -- that's down from 68.2 percent in Q2. Go back even six months, and post-PC device-obsessed analysts forecast iPad's dominance for another four or five years. Instead, Android rises. In August 2011, Apple had overwhelming tablet share in the United States -- 81 percent. A year later, iPad dropped to 52 percent share, with Android tablets rising to 48 percent from 15 percent.

Amazon fractures Android

But that success put Android at risk. Amazon and Barnes & Noble tablets filled the leadership vacuum vacated by Google with proprietary Android distros. As I explained in December 2011:

Amazon shows how one competitor can shake up the Android tablet market. But Amazon's objectives are contrary to Google's, since the online retailer, like Apple, wants to deliver a curated user experience...The retailer offers a curated experience -- apps, ebooks, music, movies and online physical goods sales -- and that's sensible for its business model.

Google needed to take leadership over the Android tablet market a year ago. Amazon is filling the vacuum, culling Android and supporting apps to its own benefit. That's good for the retailer, not necessarily for the broader Android tablet market and certainly not for Google cloud services. Google's absolute leadership failure is Amazon's opportunity.

In April report "Tablets Will Rule The Future Personal Computing Landscape", Forrester Frank Gillette predicted: "The popularity of these content-driven devices will cause proprietary Android share to surpass the installed base of Google’s Android ecosystem in 2015. This further fragmentation will challenge Android developers, customers, and especially enterprises, and hamper the creation of a shared ecosystem".

This largely describes Android's problem on tablets. In April, I expressed about the search giant's tablet strategy: "Google isn't trying to save Android tablets but kill Kindle Fire". I figured it was too late for Google to step up and take divisive and decisive leadership -- Android faced two tablet enemies, iPad and Kindle Fire -- and that ignoring Samsung's success.

Google unifies the Platform

But I was wrong. Nexus 7 shows that Google can, working with a partner, produce a compelling, affordable tablet running pure Android. Nexus 10 raises the stakes. There's something devious, quite cunning, about the American company working with ASUS and Samsung -- the two leading Android tablet makers -- particularly the latter. Based on price and features alone, Google gives potential tablet buyers good reasons to make Nexus 10 the Samsung they buy. The pure Android model makes Galaxy Tab 10.1 obsolete and leaves the stylus Galaxy Note 2's only compelling feature. Samsung is an Android fragmenter, too, because of TouchWiz and slow OS updates. Nexus 10 solves that problem, or so I predict.

Ultimate success isn't about market share, but platform leadership. Nexus devices are reference for all manufacturers and for developers creating Android apps. The revamped Android Market, recast as Google Play, offers a curated content platform similar to Amazon's and Apple's, but supporting the broader ecosystem. There's no competing silo.

Then there is Google Now, which debuted on Jelly Bean 4.1 alongside new Nexus devices four months ago. The service is a watershed development. Google successfully presents its depth of search and contextual services in a truly meaningful manner -- one that can change how people interact with mobile devices. You don't have to search. The feature tracks activities and location, anticipating what information the user needs before asking and presenting it contextually.

Over the weekend, I explained that there really is no post-PC era -- that we instead have entered the contextual cloud computing epoch, where Google demonstrates decisive leadership. Google Now delivers on the concept handsomely, and the search and information giant knows this. There are reasons why the service is centerpiece for new Nexus device TV advertising.

I was wrong about Google Nexus tablet. The Calif.-based company got a late start -- about that I was absolutely right. But it was never too late.

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