Unnamed sources have told the Wall Street Journal that Google plans to launch an online tablet store to sell co-branded tablets directly to consumers, much like it did with the Nexus One smartphone back in January 2010 (although Google closed that particular store five months later). The move is reportedly to turn around sluggish sales of Android tablets while providing a retail hardware service rivaling Apple and Amazon.
As previously reported, Google plans to sell a tablet using its Nexus branding. The store will also be stocked full of tablets provided by partner manufacturers including Asus, Samsung and a few others already offering retail products. Both Asus and Samsung will also reportedly create Google's co-branded Nexus tablets, although prior reports have already pinned Asus as the first "Google Experience" tablet supplier slated to launch later this year.
So far it's unclear as to when Google will launch its tablet store, but the sources hint to Android 5.0 "Jelly Bean" launching in the middle of this year. Prior reports have said the new version won't launch until 3Q12 at the earliest, and that's when Google will likely launch it's online store and the co-branded tablet from Asus. Even more, if other manufacturers are on board to develop co-branded tablets, these might make a debut in the new store in 3Q12 as well.
The next "Nexus" tablet after the initial wave may be from Google itself thanks to its pending $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility Holdings. So far the deal has been approved by the United States and Europe, but the duo is still waiting on a green light by Chinese authorities. Once that happens and the acquisition takes place, they will start working on Google-branded Motorola tablets. What this means for other Android tablet manufacturers is still up in the air.
Many critics have complained that releasing Android 5.0 in 3Q12 will be too early and may hurt the overall Android ecosystem. After all, Android 4.0 -- which is supposed to finally fix the fragmentation problem that has plagued the OS for years -- launched at the end of 2011 and has yet to fully infiltrate the Android market. As it stands now, many consumers are still waiting to move up from v2.3 "Gingerbread" while Ice Cream Sandwich devices fresh from the shop are few in number.
But it wouldn't be surprising to see Google launch Android 5.0 on a new, Google-branded tablet later this year. The 7-inch device may or may not have a quad-core Tegra 3 SoC, and the resulting price may be somewhere between $149 to $199. Google may even throw in premium components and take the financial hit just so that it can ignite the Android tablet sector much like Amazon did with the Kindle Fire late last year. Amazon supposedly loses around $3 per Kindle Fire unit, although it makes up the difference in app, music, movie and book sales.
Insiders claim that Google believes the current model for selling Android tablets is broken. Retail sales are lackluster, and wireless carriers -- who have helped make Android the #1 mobile OS for smartphones -- are struggling to push Android tablets onto paying subscribers, unable to replicate the smartphone success. To combat this, Google is stepping in to fix the problem, and is even considering subsidizing the cost of its co-branded tablets to compete with the Kindle Fire and Apple's rumored iPad Mini.
Sources say Google has learned from its mistakes from the Nexus One storefront, and will lend huge marketing support including TV and magazine ads. And because the tablets will be primarily used on Wi-Fi connections, the company won't have to worry about pairing the devices with wireless carriers on a global scale. Google also won't have to worry about partner manufacturers selling a better product which is why Google closed the Nexus One storefront in the first place.
But what about retail? They're looking for an Apple rival, and Google plans to dish out its co-branded solution in that channel as well. How this will vary from its online offering is unknown at this point.