What Google can learn from the Amazon Kindle Fire (and iPad)

What Google can learn from the Amazon Fire (and Apple)
The launch party and subsequent media blitz for the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet today was pretty much what we all expected. We had been hearing rumors and getting breakdowns of what to expect from the Amazon tablet, and so the reveal today was less a surprise and more of a release for everyone waiting. Much like any Apple event, we knew essentially what to expect, but for a surprise or two. In this case. the surprises were split between the price, which was lower than expected, and the cloud-powered Silk web browser, which sounds like an amazing idea (although it does give Amazon full records of everything you do on the Internet, potentially making Amazon a far bigger privacy threat than Facebook or Google.) The most interesting thing about the reveal was something we often see with Apple, but rarely with Google: content convergence. 

We didn't expect the Amazon tablet to be that appealing to hardcore users, and it probably isn't, but we may have missed how much Amazon understands the tablet game. Tablets are ultimately content consumption devices, and really aren't the best for productivity beyond some light e-mail or doc review. With this in mind, the most successful tablets are the ones that can offer content. Apple has always known this, which is why it pushes music, video, and now books in the iTunes store just as much as the apps and games. Amazon spent quite a bit of time building the various pieces of its content supply, starting with books and magazines, then expanding to music with the MP3 store, video with the Instant Store, and apps in its Appstore. That content supply is incredibly impressive, and that is what will really drive the sales of the Kindle Fire more than anything else. 

What Google is missing

That content supply also highlights the inherent shortcoming in Google's model. Google has never been a content company. Google is a linking company, a connection company, which is why Android has been so successful. Phones are communication devices, and are all about discovery and connections. Google understands how people communicate with each other, and Google knows how to help you find things that you want to find. With an Android phone, you can interact with friends and family in multiple ways, or you can find information quickly through light web searches, or local searches on Google Maps. Google had the services in place with Maps, Gmail, Talk, and search to make a phone OS that worked. Unfortunately, Google's model doesn't translate to tablets, because the use case is completely different and Google simply doesn't have the content to back it up. 

When Apple launched the iPad, it already had the most popular digital music store in the world, an impressive if underused video store, and an App Store that was backed up with a lot of excited developers who filled the iPad with 2,000 apps at launch. And, those apps were specifically designed and chosen to show off exactly what set the iPad apart from being just a "big iPhone" as many skeptics had thought the Apple tablet would be. Then, to top it off, Apple added the iBookstore to the mix, and made deals with various print publications to make the iPad the one-stop shop for any content you may want. Amazon did the same thing by showing off a tablet where the hardware and even OS didn't matter so much. The content was the star of the show. Google has the biggest ebook store around, but books don't push tablets. Google's video store is growing, but still not a huge selling point. Even now, Honeycomb-specific apps are limited and likely don't even come close to the 2,000 apps that the iPad had at launch. And, Google doesn't have any options for music delivery, no store, and no deals with any streaming services. 

Google's most successful product recently has been Google+, and it isn't because people are looking for a Facebook alternative (although that is part of it.) Google+ has been a success because Google built up various services so that each one was a success (or at least functional, as with Buzz). Then, once everything was built, Google pulled together YouTube, Picasa, Profiles, Buzz, Talk, News, and Blogger and made a compelling and well-crafted social network. Unfortunately, Google doesn't have the properties to pull together for content and has been slow to build that content. 

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Build the stores and they will come

As we mentioned, Google already has the biggest ebook store around, but Google still hasn't made much of the reported negotiations with other print publishers in bringing a more diverse reading selection to Android. Music may not be a priority, because there is already choice with apps available for Rdio, Spotify, Pandora and more. Besides, music is the least important of all content when it comes to selling tablets. Google has YouTube for video, but the vast majority of that content is not what sells tablets either. Google has been expanding its selection of movies, but still has no TV at all, and the options are very limited as far as apps since Netflix and Hulu still don't support Honeycomb. 

We can hope that with the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich, the number of tablet-centric apps available for Android will increase because of the better tools which will allow developers to create apps for multiple devices from phone to tablet. The trouble with that hope is that developers are a notoriously fickle group and at this point Android tablet support seems to be stuck in a vicious cycle - no one wants Android tablets because there isn't enough developer support, but developers won't support Android tablets because no one is buying them. Update: There is a lot of speculation, but no hard numbers as far as how many apps are available for Honeycomb tablets right now. Many lists of apps designed for Honeycomb count the apps at under 300, while estimates put the number somewhere between 700-2000. Even a search of the Android Market claimed that there were "at least 1000" results, but only listed 480. A reader has claimed that there are 14,000 Honeycomb apps, but we've had absolutely no luck in verifying that. If anyone could help us out in determining how many apps have been designed for Honeycomb (or even the number compatible with Honeycomb would be interesting at this point,) we'd greatly appreciate it. 

A different view on the tablet game

We've seen other tablets come into the market and fail and we always blame the troubles on bad hardware or bad software, but there is a very real possibility that any of those issues could have been surmounted with the right content behind it. The BlackBerry PlayBook had its issues with bad software choices (BlackBerry Bridge anyone?), and because the target market may not exist. As we mentioned, tablets are not the best productivity devices, and BlackBerry is still targeted more at enterprise than anything else. The HP TouchPad didn't have the best hardware, but it certainly wasn't a bad device, and webOS is the best OS that can't find a market. Now, imagine if Amazon had put its content stores behind the HP TouchPad. Lacking hardware or not, that device likely would have sold (and saved webOS in the process.) 

That brings us back to the limbo of Android tablets, which have found a respectable amount of market share through 7" Android 2.x devices, which don't have a shortage of apps (regardless of if those apps scale well to 7" screens), and sell mostly because of their low cost. Honeycomb tablets are the real market that Google wants, but can't seem to find a foothold. The prevailing theory is that it is the lack of apps alone that is keeping sales down, but that may not be the case. More than anything, Honeycomb may have highlighted that Google runs ahead too fast without building the base first. Apple and Amazon knew to build the content stores before diving into the tablet game. Google needs to bolster its content, especially in video, magazines, and newspapers, in addition to pushing developers to create apps before Android tablets can really take off. Of course, as we mentioned, Google isn't a content company, and never has been, nor has Google had such a good track record with building stores. That doesn't bode well for fixing this problem, but maybe with the right partnerships, the content can come from other sources. It's definitely a major issue that Google needs to be looking at though. 


As readers have pointed out, Honeycomb tablets also suffer from a lack of marketing, but what exactly would the marketing tout? The lack of marketing could very easily be traced back to the content problem that we've outlined above. No marketing campaign for tablets can use the hardware specs as a selling point, that doesn't work these days. The DROID marketing campaign is constantly referring to the power of the Android Market, but that's not something to point to with Honeycomb tablets, because there are no apps. There's no music store, and a video store that is in need of more content. The marketing tools of Android phones like Google Maps, etc wouldn't work either, because those products are better suited for phones. The only thing Google has that could be put in advertising is the Google Books store, but a book store is only a marketing tool for a tablet that costs $250 or less, and the cheapest Honeycomb tablets are usually around $400. Honeycomb tablets are built for more use than just reading, but the content simply doesn't exist to support those uses. 

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