On Wednesday, Andy Rubin suddenly stepped down as the head of Android. The reason for this move is obscure. The most telling statement I’ve read on this, so far, comes from Ina Fried, at AllThingsD:
It was certainly a sudden move. Rubin had been confirmed to speak at our D11 conference in May; you don’t do that when you’re easing your way out. In the time between giving wide-ranging comments on Google’s plans two weeks ago and dropping out of a speaking slot at SXSW this past weekend, something changed.
The Trouble With Tablets
I do not know what suddenly changed, but one contributing factor in the change may have been Andy Rubin’s inability to translate Google’s success with handsets into an equivalent success with tablets. This must be particularly painful to Google since studies have conclusively shown that it is tablets, not phones, that best support Google’s advertising business model.
This past summer, I predicted that the introduction of the Google Nexus tablet would eviscerate the market for all other Android tablets. After all, the Nexus tablet was made by Google itself, was sold at cost, and would be competing on the basis of the sale of content, app and advertising revenue that was not available to the likes of Samsung and other Android manufacturers.
So far, my prediction has not come to pass, as Samsung has made modest gains in tablet sales over the past six months. But my failure to accurately foresee the future may have been more due to a failure on the part of the Google Nexus tablets, than it was of my analysis.
Low Tablet Sales
Google does not reveal their Nexus tablet sales numbers which is revealing in and of itself. However, Google cannot hide entirely behind a cloak of secrecy.
Source: The Yankee Group
The Yankee Group recently surveyed consumers, asking them which brand of tablet they intended to buy. The iPad dominated the discussion but the Google Nexus tablets garnered only 1% interest from the survey participants. ONE PERCENT.
How is that even possible? Remember, this is a tablet that is being given away for COST. And it is being given away for cost by the largest, most successful advertising company in the world. One percent interest in future sales is not just bad, it’s dreadful.
And it must be all the more galling to Google that Amazon – which is using a forked version of Android and an almost identical business model – has 7% interest. To put it in colloquial terms, “that just ain’t right.”
Low Tablet Usage
And if the unreported sales numbers weren’t bad enough, the usage numbers – 1.7% for all Google Nexus Tablets combined – are equally depressing. That’s just barely better than the rapidly failing Barnes & Noble Nook. It’s less than a quarter of the usage enjoyed by all Amazon tablets. And it’s barely 2% of the usage garnered by Apple’s iPads.
Remember, Google makes no income from the sale of their tablets. If Google tablets are not used, then they are useless to Google.
I doubt that tablet sales were THE factor that made Google suddenly change the head of their Android program. I think that the merger with Chrome was far more significant. However, I also have no doubt that Android’s lack of progress in tablets was A factor in the change…and a significant one at that.