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Google's Big Tablet Mistake

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Everyone and his gadget-loving cousin seems to be arguing these days about whether the iPad will be another hit for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , or a dud like Apple TV. As far as I'm concerned, Apple ensured the device's success the day that it decided to have the iPad's operating system be the iPhone OS rather than a modified version of its Mac OS. Likewise, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) ensured itself an uphill battle against Apple the day it decided to support its developing Chrome OS for the tablet market in addition to Android.

Apple's smart decision
The brilliance of using the iPhone OS to run the iPad was twofold. First, it makes using an iPad feel nothing like using a personal computer. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) has taken the opposite tack over the years with its Tablet PC software, which does little more than tinker with its bloated, buggy Windows operating system so that it can work with a touchscreen; and the results (or lack thereof) are plain for everyone to see. Giving the iPad an interface that was built from the ground up with human fingers in mind, rather than a keyboard and mouse, means that Apple will avoid the same pitfall.

Secondly, choosing the iPhone OS made sure that millions of iPhone and iPod Touch owners who have built large app collections would have a strong incentive to buy an iPad. Right off the bat, these people will have a sizeable collection of software that they can port over (albeit without perfect formatting) to the device using iTunes. And as millions of additional consumers buy an iPhone or iPod Touch for the first time in the coming years, this base of potential buyers will grow.

Google's questionable decision
Nonetheless, if Google had decided to limit its tablet operating system support to Android, you could basically make the same arguments in its favor. Android, like the iPhone OS, was built with a touchscreen interface in mind. And it also has a growing base of apps and smartphone users that it could leverage.

I'm sure that the iPad would still have an early lead, thanks to Apple's hype machine and the iPhone OS' larger base of users. But as Android gains momentum -- its smartphone share has been growing by leaps and bounds lately -- and leading PC manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , and Acer release Android tablets, the iPad would have a serious competitor on its hands.

But instead, Google is also supporting Chrome OS, which was initially devised as a netbook PC operating system, for the tablet world. Compared with something like Windows, Chrome, which is due out later this year, will clearly be a lot simpler and sleeker. But all the same, its PC roots are bound to affect its user interface.

And just as importantly, Chrome OS won't have any ability to run Android apps initially, which are on the verge of totaling 40,000. In fact, with all of Chrome's apps meant to be web-based save for its browser and media player, I don't think you can expect an app experience anything like the iPad's. Especially not for resource-intensive apps such as games.

Google seems to be taking a spaghetti-on-the-wall approach to the tablet market: Throw some operating systems out there, and see what sticks. Chances are that this strategy will guarantee Apple a huge lead in the market's first years -- a lead that it might never relinquish.

Fool contributor Eric Jhonsa has no position in any of the companies mentioned. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 4:33 PM, daveshouston wrote:

    That's a very insightful article Eric. Thanks for putting it up here.

    Apple's App Store has been so incredibly amazing. 150,000 apps and several billion downloads in just a short time. They had to be asking themselves, "What can we do to take advantage of this huge software resource and customer base? How can we make this even more attractive to our developers?

    Answer: Bring out the iPad and extend the iTunes ecosystem to publishing.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 5:16 PM, PSU69 wrote:

    If 40% of the websites use flash and Apple's iPad is NOT flash friendly, will astute consumers care? Or will they feel duped? Feel betrayed?

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 7:11 PM, gslusher wrote:

    Good article. I see a lot of comments to the effect that Apple should have made the iPad to run OS X. What people forget is just what you pointed out--OS X was designed to be used with a precision pointing device--mouse, trackball, etc., not fingers. Also, OS X (and Flash!!) senses a "hovering" mouse (or "rollover") for various functions. That would be difficult if not impossible with a true touchscreen. I use a Palm TX and occasionally use my finger instead of the stylus. It works poorly, for the same reason. (The TX uses a pressure-sensitive screen, rather than the capacitive screen used by the iPhone & iPad.)

    A lot of people seem to buy a laptop based upon "features," but then never use those features. They use it for email, browsing, typing notes, looking a videos & photos, etc. Apple's taken care of most of the real functions people use laptops for.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 7:17 PM, gslusher wrote:


    Re: flash. LOTS of people I know turn Flash OFF. (I do in Camino, unless I know that I'm going to a site with Flash video.) There's a plug-in for Safari, ClickToFlash, that disables Flash unless the user clicks on the specific item.

    By turning Flash off, I 1) avoid a lot of ads; 2) load pages much faster; 3) reduce the frequency of browser crashes; 4) avoid the spinning beachball (my iMac G4 is only 1 gHz and really slows down at high data rate video, even more if the video is flash vs H.264); 5) lower my blood pressure.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 7:21 PM, gslusher wrote:

    Re: Flash

    Like a lot of people I know, I keep Flash turned OFF in Camino unless I absolutely need it. There's a plug-in for Safari, ClickToFlash, that disables all Flash content unless the user clicks on the specific box. It's very popular on VersionTracker.

    By disabling Flash, I 1) speed up the loading of web pages; 2) lower the frequency of browser crashes; 3) avoid a lot of ads and useless stuff; 4) avoid the spinning beachball (my iMac G4 is slow--1 gHz--and chokes on a lot of Flash video, even more than h.264); and 5) lower my blood pressure.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 8:07 PM, marv08 wrote:

    Very good and thoughtful article. Thanks!

    I boldly predict that OEMs will choose Android over Chrome OS in most cases. The focus is on apps, apps and apps. Offline storage for Web apps is in its infancy, Google Gears never worked well and it will be a long time until they have achieved perfection using HTML5. Almost nobody will pay $400 and more for a device that is practically useless without an Internet connection. Chrome OS is obsolete before it has even arrived. Google should rather concentrate on making one great OS and the best possible tools and SDKs for it. So far Android is still a lot behind the iPhone OS and even less polished than Palm's WebOS. And we can bet that the iPhone OS 4.0 (likely due in June) will again raise the bar significantly.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2010, at 11:10 PM, ConstableOdo wrote:

    What exactly is Apple's hype machine. Apple hardly ever releases information about its products. The iPad had the iPad keynote and one commercial. How is that a hype machine. If you're talking about internet buzz, that is not generated by Apple, but by bloggers everywhere both for and against the iPad. You are mistaking interest for hype. Yes, Apple does have a loyal fan-base, but that is to be expected by a company that builds products that users really like.

    I think Android tablets will catch on unlike those ridiculous, full Windows 7 tablets. Such overkill of an OS for what will amount to be very simple tasks. Android tablets are going to be fragmented with every User Interface different from the next. Nothing will be consistent. I'm curious to see how the content is going to be on Android. Is Google going to go to publishers begging for digital content. Google better get back to its roots in search and ad clicks or that's going to be slipping away from them.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2010, at 11:46 AM, sfmitch wrote:

    @Eric Jhonsa, the article you linked to for "Apple's Hype Machine" doesn't mention, explain or support any such thing.

    @ConstableOdo - nicely said.

    @PSU69 - Right now, it seems that not including Flash is not a problem. The market of mobile users (no full version of Flash on smartphones) and very, soon to be iPad users is big enough that there is a trend to offer non-Flash content. Time will tell if this is a deal breaker for a lot of folks.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2010, at 11:58 AM, eldernorm wrote:

    "whether the iPad will be another hit for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), or a dud like Apple TV"

    Not a bad article but what makes him think that the Apple TV is a dud. I believe they have sold over 7 million units, about 3.5 X the Kindle and Apples new services still link back to the Apple TV.


    Just a thought.


  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2010, at 1:25 PM, beetlebug62 wrote:

    It's all relative, but it would be nice for writers to add the context. For Apple, the AppleTV is a dud, even if it has sold 7M units. For Amazon, the Kindle is a star, even if it has sold only 2M units. That's because it is all relative. 7M units of AppleTVs to Apple is not adding much to its bottom line or product mix, even if that is several times more units than Kindles to Amazon. For Amazon, Kindles are a hit because relative to their competition, Sony and B&N, they have sold more. Thus, it's all relative, but I can see why there is such confusion, and why writers need to add some context.

    Oh, the iPhone OS X is derived from Mac OS X, aka it's a modified version, so that sentence in Eric's piece made little sense. That's why Apple is able to innovate faster than say MSFT, because the core OS for all of its devices are one and the same. They leverage that same core, while MSFT cannot. WinMo is completely different than W7.

    As for the Google mobile OS issue surrounding Chrome and Android, it seems a little odd, as both are built around WebKit, courtesy of Apple. You'd think that they'd be able to cross-pollinate the two.

  • Report this Comment On March 28, 2010, at 8:29 PM, riwaterman wrote:

    @ConstableOdo - nicely said.

    You are absolutely right, the "apple hype machine" is just those on the internet - pro and con - that are passionate about their position - apple is great or apple sucks.

    Apple limits their message to carefully placed advertisements AFTER a product comes out except for a couple of ads for really big products (like the iphone and ipad) before unveiling.

    who remembers the "Hello" campaign for the iPhone. Nicely done but not played a real lot.

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