Sometimes it seems that Google wants to break out the old Microsoft playbook in getting your business. Certainly insinuating Google everywhere, from search, to maps, to hardware, may bring to mind Microsoft’s attempts to try to force us to accept Windows everywhere. You had it on your PC, your smartphone, and wherever else they can place it. Indeed, it has come full circle in a sense due to Microsoft’s questionable decision to take the basic look and feel of the failed Zune music player and graft it onto Windows Phone and, next year, Windows 8.
But the most notorious scheme from Microsoft involved vaporware. Whenever something better came along, they’d simply announce that they’ll have something better in a few months or maybe a year or two, so why go elsewhere?
Now in the real world, Microsoft might produce something that sort of matched what the competition brought forth at a much later date. But they might just produce absolutely nothing, but at least they’d keep the customer paying good money for their products and services, and maybe they wouldn’t notice.
These days, customers don’t believe that nonsense anymore. They will buy the iPhone, iPad, or new Mac today rather than wait for Microsoft to come up with a half-baked solution in the indefinite future. But that hasn’t stopped other companies from pre-announcing products in the hopes of gaining the upper hand.
A good example is Research In Motion, on the ropes because their products just don’t compete. Today’s BlackBerry already feels old, and the PlayBook tablet, announced months in advance, never lived up to its early hype. And now RIM is playing the smoke and mirrors game yet again, hoping you’ll consider one of their smartphones with next year’s OS. Of course, by then you’ll be immersed in the first year of a standard wireless phone contract, and won’t be ready to upgrade to anyone’s gadget. Or maybe you’re actually planning on upgrading in 2012, in which case you can give a BlackBerry its due compared to the rest of the marketplace when you’re ready. But not now. A promise today has no value whatever.
That takes us to Google, which now appears to be ready to play a Microsoft-style game, as exemplified by comments from Chairman Eric Schmidt. Supposedly, they plan to release a Nexus tablet six months from now, powered by the latest and greatest version of Android, which will be, he claims, “a tablet of the highest quality.” I suppose they are hoping and praying that people will seriously consider an Android alternative, and postpone the purchase of the next iPad, which is expected to arrive anywhere from February to April of next year.
But if the Nexus tablet is six months away, with no idea how good it will really be, why should customers wait? Does Google have a track record in delivering first-rate tablets?
If you look at the evidence of history, Google’s hasn’t done very well. They built Android 3.0, designed strictly for tablets, and Motorola used it on the Xoom, launched with a big publicity and advertising splash. Few cared. The tablet received mediocre reviews and quickly vanished from the marketplace. But Google felt Motorola’s patent portfolio was a major reason to buy the company anyway. Maybe they could defend themselves and their partners against intellectual property lawsuits, even if the public said no to anything but a basic Motorola feature phone.
If you’ve followed Google’s model naming byplay, you’ll know that a Nexus device is supposed to be a flagship Android mobile device, affording a pure, unvarnished experience rather than the altered version shipped by many Google licensees. This has been an ongoing problem with Android, a branding issue. One company’s Android smartphone or tablet may deliver a look and feel different than a competing product, because they’ve tampered with the user interface. It may even be altered enough not to be distinctively Android.
Certainly the biggest offender might be Amazon. Other than the ragged performance typical of an Android mobile gadget, you may not realize that the Kindle Fire’s OS is actually Android 2.2. But Amazon heavily massaged the interface to provide what they consider to be the ideal storefront for their products and services. Sure, customers and critics might disagree, but that was the intent.
But you have to wonder why they choose an OS that was never certified for tablet use. Certainly the earliest Android tablets also featured version 2.2, and they failed. But Amazon’s marketing muscle looks to be sufficient to move several million Fires even if the overall customer experience isn’t as good as it might be. But whether that will hurt future sales, particularly after the holiday rush is over, is an open question.
Speaking of Google, here’s one more thing: According to published reports, a future Android release will leverage Google’s own voice assistant technology, the better to compete with Siri on the iPhone 4s. The code name? How about Majel?
Of course, trivia experts might recall that the late Majel Roddenberry, widow of the creator of “Star Trek,” was the voice of the onboard computers on the Enterprise. So what if Google actually licensed the voice and the name from the Roddenberry estate? That would be intriguing, although I don’t know if it’s actually happened. On the other hand, Majel might just be a lame excuse to fool you into holding off on buying an iPhone 4s in the hope that an Android version will come out some day.