A Google Nexus tablet? Bad news for Android partners

commentary You may think it's difficult to operate in the tablet business now. But just you wait until Google itself gets into the game.

Samsung Galaxy Note
Tablets, even tweener ones like the Galaxy Note, could face pressure if Google gets into the business itself. Sarah Tew/CNET

The worst thing Google could do to its budding Android tablet business is get into it.

But that appears to be what the Internet search titan is up to. The latest report from Digitimes has Google partnering with Asus to create a low-cost tablet to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire.

If Google wanted to assuage its Android partners that it isn't interested in competing against them, the company is going about it completely wrong. Android tablets haven't exactly been blockbusters like Apple's iPad, but device makers have begun to make some slight progress in the area. Google getting into the business with its own so-called Nexus tablet may spark some interest in the area, but it'll come at the cost of sales to its Android partners.

Sure, Google can get away with the occasional Nexus smartphone, which carries the best and latest from Android. But the smartphone market is fairly mature, with more and more consumers adopting them everyday. There's certainly a big enough market to support a product from Google.

But the Android tablet is still in its infancy, and Google would be rocking the boat in a big way if it launched its own tablet.

Google is already walking a tightrope with its partners over its acquisition of Motorola Mobility . While the acquisition is largely meant to shore up Google's patent position to better defend Google itself and its partners from legal attacks, it also means the Android maker will eventually compete directly against its partners with a handset unit of its own.

Google isn't going so far yet with the tablet, instead purportedly partnering with Asus. To better compete with the Kindle Fire, the only other real success in the tablet business, Google would price the device at $199, according to Digitimes.

That'll add a lot of pressure to its partners to get the price of their products down while maintaining some level of quality. While the Kindle Fire is relatively inexpensive, it also uses lower-end parts. Amazon can afford to keep the price low because the device is designed to spur sales of the company's products and services.

Other Android partners aren't so fortunate. Products like Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab lines are priced much higher, while Motorola's Xyboard line also feature premium prices.

If a Nexus tablet becomes the standard at $199, what hope do the other vendors have in selling competing products at twice that price?

Of course, another low-cost tablet may be good for consumers. A high-profile Nexus tablet may drive prices down for everyone, and bring more badly needed attention to the Android side of the tablet playing field.

But that will hurt the ability of many vendors to continue making tablets at a profit, dimming the longer-term picture for tablets. For the sake of its partners, Google should stay out of the game.

 

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