Andy Rubin And The Curious Failure Of The Nexus Tablet


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


Source: Chitika

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.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

45 thoughts on “Andy Rubin And The Curious Failure Of The Nexus Tablet”

  1. I, like a number of people, really struggle to see what Google can do to push their tablets outside a massive marketing push similar to what Samsung is doing with their Galaxy range. When people think about Apple, they think about it as a premium product. I.e. value for money and utility are not high in their purchasing decision list. However I’ve seen that when people think about non Apple products, (Android, Windows iterations, Blackberry, or the various OEMs) value for money and utility resolutely jump back to the top of their mental processes as they do not command the mindshare attached to “premium purchase”. With the current exception of the Galaxy S3 which I find now occupies that space with a number of people.

    Translating this all into tablet sales is a mystery. 7″ Android devices sell well here in the UK, but still not well enough. There seems to be a consistent fundamental difference between iOS buyers and other OS’s that goes far beyond UX.

    1. You seem to miss that Apple is a value for money winner. More value (ecosystem of apps and accessories, for starters) costs more money. It seems the market wants more value, not less, and is willing to pay accordingly. People recognize this and go with Apple.

  2. Salting the cut: Today Amazon has repriced the Fire HD. Significantly lower. Nobody will make anything off low end tablets. Amazon will make it up “on volume” or some such malarky.

  3. The Kindle group are the Sears Catalog of the 21st century, little more and much less. When added up all of the forks, knives and spoons of Android is ant pee to what ipad can do for users. At least the Sears catalog had a hole in the corner to hang in the outhouse for its real reusing ;-))

  4. I think what it comes do to is the associated media stores. Apple’s strongly defined and the largest player in the music market as well as having high transparency with movies.

    Amazon is likewise associated with purchasing of media.

    What is Google associated with? Search.

  5. I’ll comment just on a thought around the success of the Nex 7. Initially I believed this to be a tactic to be to generate consumers to give their credit cards to the play store. Google is exceptionally weak in getting for paid apps. Since they gave all Nex 7 buyers 25$ I think they hoped it would lead to more cc signups. I’d say its judgement on success depends on that key strategic issue.

      1. Why not? I fail to see your point. Never had a problem, nor I use Wallet *and* let people use my phone *and* leaves my phone unlocked.

        At the same time, you trust iFind with your passwords.

        I’m sorry. I just came to this site and I see a bunch of Apple praising and Google bashing. This article is an opinion, yes, but it’s another one that somehow chooses the worst possible scenario for Android and the best scenario for Apple. Nobody ever thought about Sundar trying to merge technologies of Chrome, which is an equally possible guess, since we are guessing!

        Hello, good bye.

    1. To understand the recent demise of Andy Rubin, consider this statement that he made: “I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet…if someone makes an ICS app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on tablets.” ~ Andy Rubin

      Evidently, consumers who buy tablets have a different perspective.

  6. When discussing success and failure, it should all be set against expectations.

    We all know John can’t pass up any opportunity to brand Google as a failure but I’m not so sure this is a great opportunity. I think the Nexus tabs have performed about exactly where their makers and branders expected them to.

    Comparing anything to Apple is always a pretty absurd bar because Apple has deftly created and maintains an environment for itself that is utterly atypical and probably unique in the world. Apple products are great – no doubt – and years of great product has created an innate consumer trust and value proposition that noone else can match. If you can make enough and get them to stores, Apple products literally sell themselves. iPhones sell in carriers where they have hard $ incentives not to sell them. iPads outsell every other tablet even though they are the most expensive. Product launches are covered by all mainstream media. While it is a great triumph for Apple to be able to produce so many high quality devices and sell them in so many fantastic Apple stores and Store-in-Store locations around the world every quarter, you cannot hold up that level of performance as an expected yardstick for competing products.

    The Google Nexus tablets were produced by Asus and Samsung for Google. They are good if not great devices, keenly priced. However, at the prices Google are charging, neither the OEM, nor Google are that interested in lowering their net margins or future market prospects by flooding the market with these things. There was relatively little advertising, they were only available in a few (although major) markets through limited outlets, mostly through the Play Store, the well known hangout of the tight-fisted. Thus their performance is probably exactly what Google and the OEMs expected. I have massive doubts that this had anything to do with Rubin’s departure. Even the ecosystem failures for tablets are much more related to the skills (or lack thereof) of developers and weaker demographics of users than the quality of the OS (which continues to get better, smoother, and more feature rich).

    When you look at the Nexus phones, none of them have sold particularly well but they have all offered benefits to Google, the platform and the OEMs. Design help from Google, OS optimization, and probably some subsidies for R&D are all good for OEMs who have typically struggled in these areas. Overall, they legitimized the high-end Android market and spawned other models that have sold in greater numbers. Nexus 1 led to all manner of successful HTC phones, Nexus S led to GS2, Galaxy Nexus led to the GS3, Nexus 4 is helping LG create better (and better selling) Optimus phones, etc.

    On a broader note, what Google and especially Samsung have learned is that chipping away at Apple is a good long-term strategy. Nexus tablets should be seen better in that light. When Apple does not react to the scatter gun of Android market applications real opportunity can develop e.g. Phablets and large (4.5″+) phones. Some other ideas are duds, like the phone GPS or Android P&S cameras. Low end phones is another success for Android regardless of whether Apple wants in on that market or not. They have been very successful for Samsung as they have powered them to industry leading volumes, cut LG and Nokia off at the knees in their traditional markets and provided a scale mitigation against losing the Apple component business. Apple’s lack of desire to play in this market (so far) in no way invalidates Android/Samsung’s success.

    The key difference in tablets is that unusually, Apple already had its superior answer in the form of the iPad Mini (and 4th gen iPad) almost ready to roll so the Nexus tablets had no chance to outperform their inputs. In the other areas, Samsung and Android have taken or bought the high ground and Apple will have a fight on their hands to take it.

    1. “We all know John can’t pass up any opportunity to brand Google as a failure…” – capnbob67

      I actually would have predicted that the Google Nexus would have been doing much, much better. I expected it to handily beat out the Amazon products and to destroy the tablet market for Android manufacturers. Neither has happened.

      It is not I who is branding Google tablets as a failure. It is the facts.

      1. It’s the facts, it’s the facts. That’s what people pushing opinions typically say when they want us to ignore that they are just giving us their interpretation of data. To wit, your expectations and reality are not necessarily highly related.

        Amazon has a strong business model associated with its cut priced tablets and a real premium channel to sell it (tens of millions of people coming to your website in order to buy things). Google didn’t really try. Asus and Samsung probably wouldn’t even have made them for Google if they hadn’t received assurances that Google wasn’t going to destroy a market that they both have a long-term interest in. Just like the Nexus phones, the OEMs wanted a little Google validation for the Android tablet market. Since they neither supported them with serious distribution or marketing $, they clearly did not want major sales. They did want to put good Android tablets in the hands of a couple of million geeks who will show them off and advise their friends and family that there are other decent choices apart from the iPad. As many as Apple have sold, the market is probably not even 10-15% penetrated. The market is still wide open and Google and their OEMs are playing a long game.

        1. Asus and Samsung probably wouldn’t even have made them for Google if they hadn’t received assurances that Google wasn’t going to destroy a market that they both have a long-term interest in.

          Dude google is paying them hard cash to make their tablets and they don’t do it out of the beliefs or anything else.

          “they clearly did not want major sales”

          You are kidding here right. Every company on this earth wants to make money, why? to fight another day.

          “They did want to put good Android tablets in the hands of a couple of million geeks who will show them off and advise their friends and family that there are other decent choices apart from the iPad.”

          The problem here is even the geeks prefer the iPads to other tablets.

          “The market is still wide open and Google and their OEMs are playing a long game.”

          So Apple is not?

          1. Samsung has no need to make a Google branded tablet at low margins when it is minting money on its own devices. Asus is less strong but still would not be interested in destroying a market that it has long-terms plans for (see Transformer etc.) Your ultra-simplistic view on corporate decision making is not helpful. Successful companies do not typically cut off their nose to spite their face, at least not on purpose.

            The facts remain, that Google and its OEMs did not make many of these devices (constant stock outs even at modest sales levels), did not distribute them to many markets or distributors (mostly Play in a few markets) and did not market them with any vigor or $$s. All those tell much more about their intentions that some unfounded, a priori, glib soundbites about “fighting another day” or “every company wants to make money”.

            Why does Google playing a long game suggest that Apple isn’t? I never suggested that. Apple is all about the long-game, often at the expense of the short-term. That’s just knee-jerk reaction based on your bias.

        2. “It’s the facts, it’s the facts. That’s what people pushing opinions typically say when they want us to ignore that they are just giving us their interpretation of data.” – capnbob67

          Actually, people pushing opinions generally downplay the data rather than highlight it.

          Only 1% of the people surveyed have any intention of buying a Google Nexus Tablet. That’s pitiful brand awareness. And that’s a fact.

          1. FalKirk, your understanding and analysis of “facts” are always dead on. I am amazed at the discord proposed. Often what are claimed in negative discussions as facts are assumptions based upon conventional wisdom repeated in the media and become modern folk lore. The idea that saturated fat is bad, the difficulty in discussing the science or lack of science in global warming, and the challenges that quality products from Apple are over priced, all too often seek support from conventional assumptions. Such thought can be dangerous and has affected discussion on other Tech sights that seem to bend over backwards when discussions on Apple’s success and future are the topic.

            All journalistic and analytic discussions at Tech.Pinions boldly draw upon facts and qualifiable realities and most often site sources for their analyses. What is difficult to understand is the hate attacks Apple has had to suffer since its earliest Macintosh days as an underdog to today’s iOS strength in the marketplace. I can understand the threat some felt to their jobs in a Windows world dependant upon tech support but to a diversified world in mobile choice, it is a conundrum.

    2. “Samsung and Android have taken or bought the high ground and Apple will have a fight on their hands to take it.”

      Except for the fact that in reality, Samsung’s sales are vastly lower than analyst guesstimates. In Q3 2012, according to court documents Samsung only sold 37,000 tablets in the USA (the world’s largest Android and iOS market by far at the time) despite IDC and other analysts reporting Samsung sold 2.5 million worldwide in the same timeframe.

      This tallies with the continuing absolute dominance that the iPad holds worldwide in terms of tablet usage share metrics.

      1. Samsung absolutely plays fast and loose with its lack of sales estimates but that isn’t particularly relevant here.
        IPad is clearly the #1 tablet in the world and I’m sure, absurdly dominant in the US which is clearly an iOS country (from sales figures). While it is improbable that Samsung only sold 1.5% of its global tablet sales in the US (one must assume at least a little Samsung lowballing in a trial where a larger number is worse for them), it is far from impossible given Samsung’s excellent global distribution and strong local market.
        However, that has nothing to do with my assertion that in several market segments that Apple has no presence in, Android has demonstrably taken the high-ground – i.e. the cheaper and the larger smartphones segments. We can argue about cheaper being an important segment for Apple (I think it is because ecosystem lock-in will be an increasingly relevant mechanism as smartphone saturation becomes prevalent in many markets), but larger phones has clearly been validated as a premium segment (most of the 4.7″+ and phablets are premium priced) that Apple has no real presence in.

        It makes no implications that Apple can’t win it back, but it isn’t virgin territory any more and switching ecosystem customers is always harder than winning from non-consumption.

        1. I was arguing against your statement that “Samsung and Android have taken or bought the high ground and Apple will have a fight on their hands to take it”. I found it surprising considering the iPad well and truly has the high ground in tablets and the fact that Apple has sold 220 million iPhones in the same time that Samsung boasted of having sold only 100 million Galaxy smartphones.

          Also, consider that there are half a billion active iOS devices, 300 million of which have now upgraded to iOS 6, versus 750 million Android activations out there. Now understand that usage stats indicate that the majority of these Android devices are cheap and nasty featurephone replacements that get thrown away at end of contract.

          App purchases and music and media purchases indicate that it is Android that faces an entrenched majority ecosystem, not the other way round.

  7. It looks like Android is in trouble. Well, not Android but Google, a company whose only merit is to have developed the best algorithm to search the web. The vast majority of Google products are going to nowhere, their success is marginal and have no way to forward in the market. Beyond the search engine, Google has nothing because it is not a technology company, Google is an advertising company that uses electronic means to be on the web, but can not be compared with companies like Apple or IBM.

    Google believed that giving away the product would have ensured the success, but the tiny interest in its tablets has left them frozen, they don’t know what to do because they were not prepared to fail. It is a fact that people who pay for a product is not interested in a OS plagued of malware and that offers a second class user experience, but Google still can’t understand this. It’s a matter of time to see how far can Google go with a business vision so short.

    1. How can you say that Google is not a Technology Company? Do you not consider Google Translate, Drive, Maps, Gmail, YouTube, technology products. Are they not the best products in their respective categories? Name one product in each categories above that is superior to what Google offers?

      1. Yes, all the items you mentioned are technology products, but none of them were developed by Google, all they are simply copies of previously existing technologies, or technologies just bought by Google. Nothing more.

        Best in their respective categories? Well, that’s another matter, and indeed a very subjective one. Translators are lots of them, better than Google’s? That depends in the way you use it. Drive, what for? Nobody sees future to something that nobody is going to use for market, economic and even idiosyncratic reasons. It has a technological content?, yes, like toilet paper. Maps? recent Apple’s and even Nokia’s apps had proven to be equal or even better than Google’s. GMail? It is a matter of taste, but I prefer outlook. You Tube? Well, perhaps the only one that really is better than its competitors, but, like I said, it is not something done by Google, they just bought the website, nothing more.

        1. Whose translation is better than Google, especially across a broad range of languages? Google built an enormous translation database for European languages by parsing the human translations of a vast array of European Union documents, each of which was translated into all of the EU’s 23 official languages. No one else in the translation business has the wherewithal for than sort of big data effort.

          1. Mr. Wildstrom: I’m sure what you’re saying is right. I read your column every time it appears, I admire your job, your impartiality and your knowledge of what you talk about; I am sure that there are few experts of your very high class. I have no intention of entering into a controversy with you about Google Translate, I am not an expert, you are. A very recognized one, by the way. All I am saying is that I do not know many languages, but I do know that in the case of translation English – Spanish, Spanish – English, Google produces very mixed results, some rare, some almost a joke. I am sure that Google handles enormous amounts of data and information, this is the least we could expect from such a company like that, but I’m not sure whether it is who best results offers. That’s all.

          2. Thanks you for your kind words.

            My basic point is that computer translation still has a very long ways to go. That’s not surprising because it is a very, very difficult problem. Our ability to throw vast amounts of processing power at it has helped a lot, but computers have not really advanced much in their ability to “understand” language at a semantic rather than a statistical level.

            If you can restrict the domain of language, machine translation can do a decent job. In the case of Google Glass, you could probably today do apps to could adequately translate street signs or menus, because these exist for smartphones. But being able to read a newspaper and get more that a very rough sense of what it is saying is still years away.

      2. @BK – As you say, Google Maps is the best in its category.

        Google provides Maps as part of its search business — not as a public service. In recent months news has emerged that Google stole the idea for the commercial/search application of Maps from Microsoft, and in the next 1-2 years there’s a good chance that Google will have to remove Maps from the marketplace.

        Gmail is NOT the best in its category, but at least Google purchased the technology rather than stealing it.

        1. I know little about the specifics of this case and less about German patent law. But there are two points worth making:

          1) Infringement on a patent cannot be in any way interpreted as “stealing” anything. A completely independent invention can easily infringe on a patent, even if the inventor knew nothing of the patented work.

          2) Whatever is decided in this case, it would apply only to Germany.

          1. 1- Infringement is not stealing in the typical case, but a different interpretation applies in the case of a serial infringer whose business plan relies heavily and repeatedly on patent and copyright infringement. You may not agree with that characterization of Google, but that’s how I see the company; consequently, I refer to Google’s infringement of Microsoft’s map-search patent as stealing.

            For goodness sake, Google execs know so little about patents that they actually paid $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility, chiefly for its patent portfolio.  Those have been virtually worthless to Google in ‘the patent wars.’

            2- Anything decided in a German court does, as you say, apply only in Germany. But Microsoft’s attorneys say they’re not willing to settle the case in Germany alone, so Maps would (if Microsoft prevails) be blocked in all of Germany.

            Moreover, the German case would serve as precedent both in European and US courts — not binding, but something the other courts would be aware of and use to inform their decisions. Patent law in this area (complex electronic products and software) is in flux right now, and courts are attempting to distill ‘truth’ from the many cases being litigated around the world — subject, of course, to differences in national laws.

    2. Google search was a unique break through, in my view one of the most significant of the Internet era. It relied on the user telling Google the user’s interests (what they want to find). I believe Google lost its way (and gave up its “do no evil” soul — not to be melodramatic, but I really do believe it) when it expanded its advertising offerings and “technology” to proactively pry into user activities/info so Google can impose unsolicited ads to monetize the otherwise private info it has gathered. I don’t know why it should give anyone comfort that Google review of gmail messages is “only” electronic, and not by human eyes — electronic surveillance is obviously most efficient and effective, and the goal of the surveillance can be adapted to “something else” easily enough.

      I’ve been using Bing and it’s good enuf (I occasionally check the search on Google, but have been doing it less and less).

      1. You’re right about Google, but by switching to Bing, you’re just giving Microsoft the same information you didn’t want to give Google. That may be a reasonable and informed choice, but there’s no free lunch in search and everyone is monetizing your data.

        1. Oh, I have no illusions about that, but as mentioned above, I draw a distinction between search (where the user tells the engin what its interests are) and the proactive prying in Adsense, gmail …. I have no problem with the search part of Google’s business , but have stopped using it out of a general distrust from its other activities (and I guess out of some sense of principle — if users don’t value their privacy, then no one will). I watch Apple’s evolving privacy policies very carefully — for now, I’m gratified that its essential business model is not based on monetizing personal info.

          1. Microsoft is doing pretty much the same things google does. They just aren’t as good at it. See, for example, this article by Danny sullivan

          2. Thanks. Very interesting and informative article(s). I see what you mean about MSFT, in particular its tracking of users’ web activity thru IE and Bing toolbar…. I’m glad I don’t use IE or the Bing toolbar, and I’ve now deleted the Bing app on my iOS devices….

            Still, it seems GOOG is well more aggressive than others, in scale and scope, with (a) Google’s electronic surveillance of gmail (which MSFT is publicizing that it doesn’t do) and (b) Google’s surveillance of user web behavior, using tracking cookies across both its AdSense and DoubleClick operations, for its “interest-based advertising” program.

            Perhaps it’s a matter of degree, but perhaps degrees should matter in privacy and comfort with privacy? In any case, … I don’t use gmail, but can’t seem to be able to effectively opt out of the GOOG cookies, not practically given the dominance of that program across the web. For now, Bing search works well enough for me, and it’s the only alternative to GOOG search (both of which are points in the Danny Sullivan articles). I’m not a MSFT fan otherwise and will continue to avoid IE and esp the Bing toolbar.

            I would much welcome any more input if I’m confused or just wrong in any of the foregoing. Thanks

          3. You’ve made an informed choice. However, I will point out that Microsoft never said it doesn’t scan your mail, only that it doesn’t do so to serve ads against it. The new has a strip of ads down the right side of the window, but right now they are all Microsoft ads. Will they be able to resist the temptation to sell targeted ads in that space forever? I doubt it.

          4. Well, if MSFT starts doing that (scanning outlook emails to serve ads), I sure hope they get called on it hard, given their current aggressive campaign against Google. I do see a difference — that sort of thing (advertising) is not the core of MSFT’s business model, which remains software (for now). In any case, I don’t use outlook for email. Thanks again for your expert input.

      2. I agree. Google’s search engine is the state of the art in the search business. Not for nothing Google has become the juggernaut it is. But that’s all. If tomorrow would happen a catastrophe and the people would stop searching the internet, Google would be simply condemned to cease to exist because none of the products it has, in addition to advertising, provides the necessary income to sustain the company – it’s that easy.

  8. my mum got a free galaxy tablet when she bought a $2,500 samsung refrigerator late last year. She is hopeless with tech, but can use the galaxy at a pinch, however she much prefers to use my father’s 3 year old first generation ipad. I’m not sure why.

  9. Not for want of trying. The fact is that they just aren’t very good at it, so they are trying to make a virtue of necessity. What do you think Bing’s business model is?

    1. I think the point is that Microsoft’s *survival doesn’t depend upon invading anyone’s privacy, as Google’s does. So Msft isn’t as motivated, doesn’t work as hard at it, is more reluctant to have its image tarred over such behavior, etc.

      Preying on private/personal information is Google’s primary business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *