Say what you want about the debate about open (Android) vs closed (iOS). Pick a side, desecrate a dictionary, throw another Gingerbread man in the oven. Say what you want about the merits, or lack thereof, of having Android available in all of its flavors for Tablet manufacturers to choose from. It really doesn’t matter to most folks who might be shopping at Walgreens or any other outlet when they see a $99.99 priced Tablet for sale as they are picking up their prescription. Heck, you can send an exec out to say that all versions of the Android operating system currently available aren’t meant for Tablets and Slates, so wait until next year. Apparently it doesn’t matter, even if Steve Jobs mentions that same fact in one of his rants against Google.
But it should. Or at least I think so. I think Google should make it matter for its own good. By allowing all of these Tablet/Slates to pop up with Android 1.6 or even 2.x, Google is creating a potential consumer backlash situation when it comes to Tablets and Slates.
Roll the clock back just a little bit to the big disruption of Netbooks. When Netbooks first burst on the scene they weren’t running Windows. Android was just a twinkle in somebody’s eye at the time. Those Netbooks were running Linux and the prevailing sentiment then was that this was going to finally hit Microsoft where it hurt, in the sale of Windows licenses. But something happened along the way. Consumers bought those early Netbooks in droves and by many accounts, quite a few of those Linux based Netbooks got returned. That opened the door for Microsoft to get back into the game and become the dominant Netbook OS. Remember that Netbooks made it into places like CVS back then too.
I just don’t think that as cute as the desert labeling is for Google’s Android evolution that most consumers are going to pay attention. And as the picture shows, most manufacturers aren’t going to bother making a distinction when they don’t have to. The copy on the Walgreen’s site cleverly makes it look like you can use the Android Marketplace, when those in the know, know that isn’t the case. But there are fewer of those in the know than there are general consumers. Those consumers are going to see $99.99 and that’s about it. Android on Tablets and Slates runs the risk of getting thought of as cheap and not worth it even at that price.
I could be wrong here and the always fickle market could ignore the potential problem I see. Apple is already starting to position Google’s laissez faire approach to this to Cupertino’s benefit. Like it or not, Apple knows how to market to its advantage better than Google does. But I’m not worried about the battle between Google and Apple. The bigger issue is that Google’s approach could lead to a lot of consumers being turned off to the whole Tablet/Slate game, in an environment that is still trying to figure out how to market these things.