As I compose this post, Microsoft’s TechEd keynote is underway, while Apple will kick off Worldwide Developer Conference in just a few hours. Both events will put forth very different views of the cloud-connected device future, which Gartner says will start as soon as 2014, when the cloud replaces the PC as everyone’s personal digital hub.
For Apple, iOS 6 will be center stage, whetting consumers’ appetites and giving them another weapon in their bring-your-own-device assault on workplace IT. Meanwhile, Microsoft pitches new wares for the enterprise — Office, Windows 8, RT and Server, for starters. Where the two companies meet is the tablet, and there’s no room between them for Android.
Matters would be better for Google’s OS if Android tablets weren’t such market failures or had the search and information giant taken decisive leadership when there was still time. In January 2011, while iPad 2 rumors circled, I explained: “The most important tablet is missing from CES, and it’s not iPad 2“, but a Google Nexus device. Google needed to do for tablets what Nexus One and its successors did for smartphones: Establish a reference design and provide developers a device with always up-to-date Android.
In December, when Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said a branded tablet would come within about a half-year, I warned: “Google Nexus tablet in six months is a year too late“. Apple’s lead is too great, and the sleeping giant, meaning Microsoft, would soon wake up. Oh, whoa, has it.
Last week, Microsoft partners showed off compelling Windows RT tablets at Computex. Google and Microsoft share many of the same OEMs, which will find more leverage moving buyers from Windows to Android. Asus’ Windows RT Transformer tablet, thumps its flagship for Android — and could be a knockout if the price comes in well under $500.
Android tablets haven’t gained market share fast enough to secure solid footing. Windows RT can easily push them aside, as well as Windows 8 combos with touchscreens and keyboards. If Android loses the tablet wars it could easily lose the broader mobile platform wars — even smartphones. Look at the United States, where, according to comScore, one in four smartphone users already own tablets. With Windows’ established install base as leverage, RT tablets will offer much more from the same OEMs as Android and court the majority of the same developers.
Platform 101 economics is this: The must successful platforms make money for third parties. In tablets, that’s more likely to be iOS or Windows RT/8 than Android. The Android Army should worry about advancing Microsoft more than Apple territory before it.
Yesterday, Android chief Andy Rubin revealed there are 900,000 activations per day. He last disclosed activations per day — 850,000 — on February 27. The new number means 27 million a month or 81 million every 90 days. That number is consistent with actual smartphone sales. Gartner, which tracks sales to end users rather than the analyst firm standard of shipments into the channel, reports 81.067 million Androids sold during first quarter. Based on the reconciled numbers, and those from analysts tracking tablet shipments, Android does squat in the device category.
Clearly someone at Google recognizes the risk — hence the late-coming Nexus tablet (if you believe the rumors and I do) and purchase of QuickOffice. Windows RT tablets ship with Office 2012. Google needs something like QuickOffice that competes. Google Apps isn’t enough when Office — the product enterprises use and love so well — comes with the device.
If Android loses on tablets, particularly considering high usage alongside smartphones and replacement behavior with respect to PCs, it could lose the connected-device platform wars to iOS and Windows RT/8. Apple and Microsoft may be writing the epitaph, but Android isn’t in the ground yet. The body is still full of life. But if Google continues its brain-dead behavior, someone someday soon will pull the plug on life support. Are you listening, Google?