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“Make sure we’re winning”

Andy Rubin’s statements at Mobile World Congress 2012 about Android tablets are either masterful business doublespeak or slightly delusional:

2012 is going to be the year that we double down and make sure we’re winning in that space. …

…we’re going to do a better job at making people understand what ecosystem they’re buying into. …

There has to be an education process and developers have to do the work [of making their Android apps work well on tablets]. They’re already doing that work for other platforms. …

I’m hoping [Android developers] decide to put in the muscle and make their apps work great on tablets.

Most Android tablets have sold very poorly. The Kindle Fire and Nook Color are the only noticeable successes, but they bury (ancient) versions of Android under such custom, Google-less environments that people don’t even realize it’s running under the hood. And even these successes are being dramatically outsold by the iPad.

Excuse me, “other platforms.”

When Rubin says something like “2012 is going to be the year that we double down and make sure we’re winning in that space”, it sounds a bit off. What does it mean, exactly?

“Double down” sounds like Google hasn’t put as much effort as it could behind this. I don’t think this is the case: while they haven’t done very well so far, Google’s tablet efforts in 2011 didn’t seem half-assed.

The more curious phrase, to me, is “make sure we’re winning”. That sounds like they are winning, or they’re almost winning, their victory is almost a sure thing, and Rubin just needs to tweak a few small things to widen the gap between his winning platform and the also-rans. Obviously, such a perception isn’t supported by reality.

His other remarks about “education” and “hoping” sound like he believes that “other platforms” are winning because consumers just need to be “educated” about software ecosystems (good luck).1 He’s also “hoping” that “frugal” Android developers will ignore “market share” and start pouring effort into tablet-porting work that may not pay off.2

Generally, it sounds like Google is planning to will developers into creating robust tablet apps and tell consumers to buy their tablets, and they assume this is going to work well, despite similar efforts mostly failing in 2011. It’s magical thinking.

But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe this was just PR-speak, or maybe this is just Rubin’s personality, and it doesn’t reflect the entire Android division’s actual efforts and beliefs.

Assuming that Google is firmly planted in reality,3 what are they actually going to do to meaningfully improve Android’s disappointing tablet sales and lack of much good tablet software?

More importantly, what can Google do?

With the realities of the tablet market (excuse me, “other platforms”), and with the existing Android hardware ecosystem and the software policies that let it get there, I don’t think I have a realistic, practical answer to suggest. I honestly have no idea what Google could meaningfully do about their tablet problems.

But I hope they internally believe that the problems are real, and they run more deeply than any amount of consumer or developer “education” can fix. They can’t just be willed away.

  1. Blaming your failures on a lack of “education” is also a red flag: it suggests that you believe your product is absolutely better, and people are only buying a competitor’s because they’re irrational or ignorant. This prevents you from objectively seeing and potentially fixing the flaws in your own product. ↩︎

  2. “Frugal” and “put in the muscle”: is Rubin implying that Android developers are cheap and lazy today because they aren’t developing apps for tablets that aren’t selling well? ↩︎

  3. Honestly, this is becoming a less-sound assumption every day. ↩︎