My Recipe for a Google Tablet

The tablet market is simply stupid in my personal opinion. Apple developed a brilliant product in the iPad – full disclosure: I have one – and every technology clambered aboard the tablet bandwagon. I imagine engineers at Sony or Motorola being driven by corporate taskmasters to create a tablet to destroy the iPad and become the next iPad. The process feels frenzied to me, directionless and chaotic, because of all the competing tablets. Then, reviewers seem compelled to give glowing reviews to nearly every tablet. Are they all really the next best thing to an iPad? Really?  Only one review I’ve read in the last six months referred to a tablet as piece of junk. I can respect such a review.

Some iPad knock-offs boast better I/O, with micro-USB ports, or micro-HDMI ports, or full-sized SD slots. Those are all welcome enhancements. I find the variety of flavors of Android simply dumb, though, adding a level of complexity above and beyond which a normal, everyday user wants to deal with. No one should have to know which flavor of an OS they are using.

Apple is leading the pack on both user-friendly design and OS maintenance for the iPhone and iPad. Apple is also ahead in the user-friendly app ecosystem via the iTunes Store. While I’m not sure the quality control/quality assurance of the iTunes Store is all I once thought (there are some crappy apps), the iTunes Store leaves the Android Market in the dust.

Apple has been a leader in tablet technology for a number of reasons. Jobs and Ivey focused on design and simplicity. Jobs demanded full control of the app store, no 3rd Apple app marketplaces. Apple enforces a developer environment anchored by Objective-C and Apple Mac hardware. Apple has built an ecosystem around their products and by doing so has imposed a high level of quality while keeping products simply, easy-to-use, moderately affordable, with cutting-edge technology.

For a technology company to unseat Apple from the tablet “drivers-seat” one of two events will need to happen. First, and most likely I suspect, Apple’s management team will stumble. Poor choices on design, either software or hardware, will result in a disaffected consumer base. Disaffection will be based, I hypothesize, on the quality of the next best competing tablet.

Enter Google.

Google is well-positioned, perhaps BEST positioned, to offer a substantive challenge to Apple’s iPad. However, I have some advice to offer Google in their pursuit of the iPad market.

I hate the word, “ecosystem,” but I am going to sigh and use the term here, as I find ecosystem applies well. Google needs to approach their tablet not as a device but as one component of a technological ecosystem. We have the hardware (tablet), the OS (Android, I guess), the application development environment, and the user base. Rather than blindly developing a tablet, and wasting precious natural resources, I encourage Google to thoughtfully consider what they hope to achieve. Not satisfied to merely just push my encouragement into the Ether, I have some ideas.

Google has large educational user base. My university uses GMail and Google Docs. Many universities have access to GMail and Google Docs. I have no way to know how many edu users use Google Docs, though I suspect Microsoft Office is very popular. MS Office 365 appears to be a very capable web-based Office offering which allows saving documents in the “cloud.”

Education is the best investment a person can make in the himself (herself.) Corporations realize the importance education and training through contracting employees for years of service after receiving paid training. Corporate managers are frequently upset after spending months training employees only to have them quit after completion.

Google currently has many education business partners. Pearson Publishing has developed a course management system (CMS) which can be tied to a GMail account.

Furthermore, Google owns YouTube, a purveyor of fine educational videos. I personally use YouTube videos in my courses. I also post my own videos to support my courses.

Google has created an “ad hoc” educational ecosystem. The educational offerings lack organization, in my opinion.

Online courses are becoming more prevalent. Courses are offered in many disciplines from almost every major college and university. Online courses require technology.

Besides the user-base part of the ecosystem, Google could focus on delivery or development of e-textbooks. In addition to textbooks, course management systems or learning management systems could be developed to support the educational ecosystem.

A tablet to serve the educational ecosystem would go a long way towards challenging Apple’s tablet market.

My Google Tablet would be something like the following:

  1. The Tablet needs to be suitable for viewing textbook related material. Nothing less than the size of a composition notebook. My notebooks run about 9.5” x 7.5.” Eventually, textbooks will all be in electronic form and users should be able to read them comfortably. A tiny 7” screen might be suitable for reading a novel, not so suitable for education and learning. I would suggest dimensions closure to a sheet of notebook paper, 8.5”x11.”
  2. The Tablet needs backlighting, a nice bright clear screen readable in a dimmed lecture hall or classroom.
  3. The Tablet needs a USB and HDMI port, an SD card slot, and port which would support an optional keyboard or other interface device.
  4. The Tablet needs WI-FI and Bluetooth.
  5. The Tablet should support 3G and higher wireless technology.
  6. The Tablet OS should be updated over-the-air (OTA) with little to no user intervention.
  7. The Tablet should interface seamlessly with a CMS/LMS.
  8. The Tablet should support HTML5, Adobe Flash, JavaScript. I personally do not care about MS Silverlight or Adobe Flex.
  9. The Tablet Developer Environment should be rigorous. Perhaps free to join, all developed apps should be managed through a Google Souk, evaluated and rated by Google Souk support staff.
  10. The Tablet should seamlessly interface with the online document cloud, either Google Docs, or Microsoft Office 365.
  11. The Tablet  should contain technology similar to Wii Motion. I’ve used the Wii Motion at home. The Motion sensor is surprisingly narrow and small. I can envision a need in the near future for a gesture-controlled tablet. What better use of the Wii Motion sensor than embedded in a tablet? Especially in education!
  12. The Tablet box should also double as a display stand. I carry my iPad around in its original box. I’m constantly frustrated by the lack of thought in the box design. Why could they not have included a simple prop in plastic molding which would allow me to prop my iPad for viewing movies? Or reading? Duh! My Tablet box would also double as a carrying case and display stand.
  13. The Tablet should have an optional hardware keyboard.
  14. The Tablet should also be cell-phone enabled. I should be able to place a call from my tablet. Furthermore, an optional Bluetooth earpiece for making calls should be available. I envision a Tablet, carried in a backpack, which allows the owner to connect their Bluetooth earpiece to their tablet and make calls.
  15. The Tablet should have Siri-like voice recognition. I envision walking down the sidewalk, and through my earpiece I hear, “incoming call” in a pleasant feminine voice. I reply, “caller id.” “It is your mother,” she says. “Answer.” I take the call, using my earpiece, with my Tablet facilitating the connection.
  16. My Tablet would support front and rear-facing cameras.

In 16 points, I’ve identified users, software technologies, and hardware technologies which could be thoughtfully incorporated into growing a very vibrant educational ecosystem, courtesy of forward-looking Google engineers.

No company, outside of Apple, appears to be approaching tablet design with any true contemplation of users, stabilizing Android versions, or really trying to develop a product with any hope of challenging the iPad. Companies appear to simply develop a cool-looking device, which ultimately is uninspired crap.

Google has a unique position to challenge Apple. Google began as a software company dipping into consumer hardware. Google Docs is adequate software for productivity. Google GMail has become a corporate standard. Google has publishing business partners with learning management systems of their own. Finally, Google has hardware technology business partners, such as ASUS, capable of tablet design and construction.

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