Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) plans to unveil a $199 tablet co-branded with Taiwan’s Asustek Computer Inc. at its developers conference this week, taking direct aim at Apple Inc.’s iPad, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The 7-inch tablet running Android mobile software will be shown at the Google I/O conference, starting today in San Francisco, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.
The device will also showcase new features of Android, according to one person, who said the latest version of the software is named Jellybean.
Google is scouting out new ways to fuel sales of tablets, a market that may almost double this year to 118.9 million units, according to Gartner Inc. Though Android has grabbed more than half of the smartphone market, tablets with the software have won less than half the iPad’s share, and will face new pressure from Microsoft Corp., which unveiled its own tablet last week.
“The tablet market is a major challenge for Google at this point,” said Clayton Moran, a Delray Beach, Florida-based analyst at Benchmark Co. “They need to have a competitive product with the iPad.”
David Chang, chief financial officer of Taipei-based Asustek, declined to comment, as did Shari Yoder Doherty, a spokeswoman for Google.
Android tablets are already available from companies such as Samsung Electronics Co., HTC Corp. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., which Google acquired last month for $12.5 billion. Still, Google is aiming to capitalize on its own brand name. It also seeks to woo consumers with a slimmer device that features the latest software yet carries a lower price than the larger iPad. The newest versions of Apple’s tablet start at $499.
“When you look at the tablet market, you have iPad — and others,” said Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at industry researcher IHS iSuppli. “Everybody is trying to figure out how to compete against the iPad. And I just see it as just one more experiment going down that road.”
This would also be the first tablet to get Google’s Nexus designation. Google has worked with manufacturers such as Samsung in the past for Nexus smartphones to highlight the best features of Android software. The processor in the new tablet will be provided by Nvidia Corp., one of the people familiar with the matter said.
Gartner expects the iPad to remain the global tablet leader through at least 2016, even as it loses some market share. The iPad will account for an estimated 46 percent of shipments in 2016, down from a projected 61 percent this year. Android may have 37 percent by 2016, a gain from 32 percent.
Microsoft, which had zero percent of the tablet market last year, is expected to nab 12 percent by 2016. That number may increase, because the Gartner report was issued before Microsoft unveiled its Windows-based Surface tablet, which is likely to be released by the end of the year.
Sales of Android-based tablets have been held back by a lack of developers for the platform. Apple’s App Store has more than 650,000 downloadable applications that include games, news and travel tools for the iPhone and iPad. Though Google Play has more than 500,000 for Android devices, Apple’s success with the iPad has given it a greater lead in apps designed specifically for tablets, said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner.
“At the moment, we don’t see the ecosystem being strong enough to compete,” Milanesi said. “There’s just not enough apps that give you a rich experience on the tablet as you have at the moment with Apple.”
HootSuite Media Inc., whose programs help users manage activity on Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. social networks, has had an application on the iPad since 2010, the year it debuted, said Chief Executive Officer Ryan Holmes. HootSuite plans to release an application for Android tablets, he said.
“We haven’t had strong enough demand yet to prioritize on development of that,” he said. “For our development priorities, it’s all demand-based.”
Creating applications for Android can take more time because the software runs on many different devices, unlike Apple’s platform, which works only on its own phones and tablets, Holmes said.
Indeed, just three of the 20 most popular Android devices held individual market share of greater than 6 percent last month, according to research from Flurry, a provider of app- analytics software that tracks use of more than 100 million devices globally. Only one phone, the Samsung Galaxy S II, commands a double-digit market share among Android products.
While the co-branded Asus tablet could help Google with developers, there’s still the question of what the company will do with Motorola Mobility. Though Google has insisted that it will continue to treat all partners fairly, the company can now use the device maker to experiment and test what a tablet could do with Android, Benchmark’s Moran said.
“The stock market investors have realized that Motorola is a key part of their mobile strategy,” he said.
Google’s collaboration with Asus on the tablet was reported earlier by DigiTimes and by the Android and Me blog.
In addition to touting Android at the I/O event this week, Google will use the conference to show off other products and services. They include its social network, Google+, which was rolled out last year, along with the Chrome Web browser. The event, running at Moscone Center through June 29, is expected to draw thousands of developers.