On Google and Selling Tablets Directly

The big news in the Tabletscape is as predictable today as it has been for awhile. Google is going to open an online store to attempt to sell Tablets directly. Chuong brought you this news earlier. Some are describing this as a panic move. That’s just silly. Anyone who didn’t see something like this coming when Google began, the as yet still incomplete, acquisition of Motorola Mobility, either has short term memory or is blind. Of course Google is going to give this a game try. Here’s hoping they succeed.

Things keep shifting and changing in the Tabletscape, but the basics underneath all of that shifting has remained the same for some time. Google is in a race to play catch-up, just like Microsoft, with Apple and Amazon in the lead. Both Google and Microsoft suffer from the same contemporary fate. As of yet, they haven’t offered a Tablet user experience that compels and they are still building out their respective ecosystems.

Set aside the user experience and the hardware for a second. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all have ecosystems in place, but Apple and Amazon are way ahead of the game here because they understand not just the user experience but the customer experience. Google has made its move by consolidating a bit and calling its online store, Google Play. That’s a start. But it will have to get deeper into the weeds and develop a better understanding of consumers who aren’t geeks and engineers. Just like the current version of Tablets get messy with fingerprints, playing in the realm of consumers is a messy experience no matter how much you try to control it.

But back to the hardware and the user experience. In the long run the hardware doesn’t matter. A slate Tablet is a slate Tablet, and IP lawyers aside, there isn’t going to be much difference between this one and that one that a consumer can latch on to for the foreseeable future. Samsung and Asus may look like the big players when Google rolls this out and until Google can figure out how to leverage Motorola’s assets. But in my view, what makes Tablets click with consumers has nothing to do with the branding of the metal and glass. The user experience is another matter. Apple succeeds here in ways that Google, at present, can only dream about. At the moment, Amazon is succeeding also, by keeping its focus squarely on limited functionality. Amazon recognizes there is a market for folks who want to consume, whether that be media or goods they can purchase.

Google on the other hand, like Microsoft, will have to compete on a larger playing field to be successful with its Tablets of the future. Unfortunately, both suffer from expectations that they have created in the past. Beyond Google Play, Google has already established the framework for those serious about doing work in the Cloud, and it will need to keep feeding that beast in the same way that Microsoft can’t afford to completely break from its Office mentality.

Whether potential Google Tablet shoppers are going to be consuming or actually trying to get work done, they need a coherent user experience that works beyond what Google has demonstrated so far. A Tablet isn’t just a large phone, nor is it just a venue to sell more advertising. To succeed, a Tablet,  needs to be a mirror into how the user sees him/herself, even if those consumers haven’t figured out what a Tablet means just yet. The bloggers and media are geeks like me, and often forget that most folks could care less about this feature and that. Apple has, for better or worse, put an end to that feature/spec game and played instead to emotional connections with the device.

Emotional connections. Hmmm? How are we going to get that from an online store? You could say, ask Amazon. But Amazon works on another plane that I’m not sure Google ever wants to venture into. To be successful, Google needs to create an experience that ignores quite a bit of its online past. That past includes a robotic response to customer service that can be best described as “take a number.” Consumers, who are human after all, are messy things that don’t always line up the way marketers and data crunchers want them to. To say, Apple’s Tablet strategy began when it started opening physical stores isn’t far from the truth.

Some are saying that Google will need to open up physical retail outlets. That may indeed be true. From the dawn of the first Tablet PC, touching these devices, or more to the point, touching what these devices can do, has always been a key consumer interaction point. More importantly, Google needs to open up its thinking to the side of its brain that doesn’t look at things so analytically and instead focuses on the more messy and less controllable creative side. Steve Jobs famously labeled what Apple does as an intersection of technology and the liberal arts. He was correct. Google has to head into that intersection and here’s hoping they do so with a better understanding than they have shown so far.