Google is set to push a new wave of budget tablets, Chief Executive Larry Page says. After the success of the Kindle Fire, Google sees plenty of space at the lower end of the market; at the top, few are challenging Apple's iPad.
Tablets running Google's Android OS are not as popular as their smartphone siblings, which dominate the market. The iPad, starting at $400, has the lion's share of tablet users, while Android manufacturers have struggled to match the price and quality of Apple's tablet -- with one exception.
The Kindle Fire from Amazon, an inexpensive $200 media tablet based on Android, has quickly become the number 2 tablet (still way behind the iPad in sales). But while the 7-inch Fire runs on Android, Amazon forked the software so much that you don't get to see any Google branded app store or media services -- the entire experience is controlled by Amazon in a very Apple-esque way, without the price premium.
Going For The Lower End
Amazon sold more than 3 million Kindle Fire tablets in just a few short months since launch, and Google is clearly aware of that.
Responding to a question during the company's recent earnings call, Page said, "There's been a lot of success on some lower-priced tablets that run Android, maybe not the full Google version of Android, but we definitely believe that there is going to be a lot of success at the lower end of the market. It's definitely an area we think is important and we're quite focused on."
Page's acknowledgement of the low-end Google tablet now lends credence to speculation last week that the company is looking to release its own sub-$200 tablet some time this summer. The tablet is said to have a 7-inch display, run Android 4.0 on a quad-core processor and no 3G connectivity (just Wi-Fi).
Something's Got to Give
According to a report citing unnamed sources from The Verge, Google is making this low-end tablet with Taiwan's Asustek, not with Motorola (the buyout is almost done). But to make a powerful 7-inch tablet is not cheap. Google's tablet is said to cost some $250, and the company pushed back the release date to later this summer so it can drag the cost down -- probably matching the Kindle Fire's $200 price tag.
It will be interesting to see where Google will make compromises to get a sub-$200 7-inch tablet. Amazon had to cut corners and ship a tablet with only 8GB of storage (unexpandable), no cameras or microphones, and a physical design that left some hoping for more refinement. Even so, Amazon is reportedly selling the Fire at a loss of a few dollars, in the hope to recoup the cost from after-sales of apps and media from its stores.
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