Google preps a tablet answer to Apple’s iPad for release later this year

by Phil Hornshaw

Android tablets continue to struggle against Apple’s nigh unstoppable iPad, so Google has decided to stop waiting for other device makers to crack the tablet’s armor and is offering a champion of its own.

That’s according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal, which builds on the rumor that Google is collaborating with Samsung and Asus to bring two new tablets to the market. The WSJ cites sources “familiar with the matter,” and says that like its Nexus One smartphone, which Google discontinued about three months after releasing it, the Google tablets will be sold through Google’s online stores to its users.

Google is hoping to find the silver bullet to take down the iPad – or at least even the odds a little bit. Right now, Apple’s device is pummeling the Android contenders on the market. Even the newly released Amazon Kindle Fire, which slipped into the No. 2 sales slot behind the iPad during the last holiday season, pales in comparison to the Cupertino king (and Amazon sells those $199 tabs at a loss on the assumption that it’ll make up the cost by selling content). As the WSJ notes, the iPad is expected to dominate 73 percent of the tablet market this year, and it just released a new version of its device this month.

But there are plenty who are waiting for Apple’s success to abate. Android device makers wouldn’t mind for the market to open up a bit more, seeing as so many of their devices have fallen by the wayside to be discontinued, and retailers that find themselves playing by Apple’s rules could stand for viable competitors to start making inroads, as well. And then there’s Google itself, which is trying to spread Android even further in the mobile market, in order to make money through ad revenue garnered from services such as Search and Maps.

The WSJ says that for the time being, Google intends to team with its Android partners to create tablets, but it won’t be long until it’s making its own, thanks to the merger with Motorola that has already been approved in the U.S. and Europe.

So should Apple and the iPad be worried? There aren’t a lot of details available, and one of the big things left up in the air is price. The WSJ mentions that Google may decide to subsidize the tablets in order to bring the cost down for consumers, which would be an interesting move; it also will have a new version of Android out this year, which rumors have said will be geared toward tablets. Those things could definitely help to make a good impression on potential tablet buyers.

But the iPad is currently entrenched in success, and the nature of the iTunes App Store, and its content that’s only compatible with other iOS devices, means that it’s not easy for iPad owners to switch to another platform. Really, though, Google is going to need to bring something exciting to the table. Apple makes a point of showing off brand new, exciting apps every time it brings out a new iPad – just look at iPhoto or Infinity Blade: Dungeons last time around. Google needs to take a page from Apple’s playbook and give consumers a reason not to pick the iPad.

Whether Google comes up with one of those reasons, or more than one, remains to be seen. If the rumors do prove to be true, though, Google is likely in a better position than any other contender to take on Apple.