Apple recently unveiled the iPad, a device with which I am more impressed than I expected. It is less expensive than I thought it would be, and it has the kind of functionality it needs to have. It has the potential to be a wonderful book, magazine, and newspaper reader. It is not without its flaws, but it absolutely has the potential to revolutionize how we read, and how we access information. It is not difficult to visualize iPads in use in doctors’ offices, libraries, and various businesses for any number of purposes, both obvious and innovative.
Google is heavily invested in Android, an iPhone OS competitor in the smartphone market. Since the iPad uses the iPhone OS, it is only natural that Android competitors to the iPad emerge. And they have. Indeed, There were Android tablets already on the market before the iPad debuted, such as the Archos 7. None of the Android tablets I have investigated so far have the appealing form factor of Apple’s however.
Google sells the Nexus One directly to customers. It essentially competes head to head with Apple in the phone market, though “compete” is taking a bit of literary license when we consider the relative sales of the two phones. Still, Android phones are increasing in popularity, and the platform is evolving rapidly. I think Google could make a real play to compete head to head with the iPad as a portable reader. Google has poured huge sums of money into digitizing books and now has a considerable library of classic works. It should leverage this by developing an Android book reader optimized for a 10 inch tablet. Then, Google should practically give them away to libraries and schools across the world. Discount them heavily, just get them out. Google should make it a corporate mission to get every middle school, high school, and college student reading books and using textbooks on an Android device.
By getting students and readers used to reading on Android devices,, Google can fuel demand for its web services and get young people accustomed to using Android as their preferred platform for accessing information. Tools are difficult things to change. Get a young person used to your tool, and you probably have a customer for life. One of the major advantage Android could offer to libraries and schools is low cost. Since Android is an open platform, other manufacturers would naturally make competing devices and compete with Google in this push into the youth market. This would drive up quality and drive down costs. A few shortcomings in the iPad which could be immediately addressed are:
- Lack of a front facing camera. With a front facing camera, an Android tablet could be a nice Skype/IM machine.
- Multitasking. This is an easy one, and is already present in all Android devices. Being able to use streaming audio while reading email or surfing the web is an advantage over the iPhone.
- Flash support. Being able to use services such as Hulu and various Flash gaming sites would provide a further advantage to an Android tablet.
Make no mistake. None of these things would “kill the iPad.” Just as in the case of the iPhone, I don’t want to see them die. They are innovative products which have forced others to respond to customer demand and improve the customer experience. Even if Google did all these things, and was successful with them, I’d love to see Apple come back to outdo them, point by point. You and I are would be the biggest winners.
Friends have pointed out that this plan could be prohibitively expensive. Looking back over it, I have to agree. The educational models should ditch the camera and Google should sell the devices at cost. Later manufacturers can come along with faster processors and additional features. And Google might actually be able to get Adobe to help defer some of the cost in exchange for promotional considerations. Adobe is desperate to have Flash on mobile devices since Apple is consistently snubbing them.