Will Google Overthrow the iPad 3 Launch?
Google wants to destroy the iPad 3. But will the dot-com giant attempt to stifle the success of Apple's next tablet?
In just seven days, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) will announce, present and hype the third iteration of its popular tablet. The media has been running crazy with rumors we hope are true and some we hope are not. Apple enthusiasts are surely planning to line up the second the device is announced. Many would start now, but there's no point in standing outside an Apple Store without knowing exactly when the device is going to arrive. Friday, March 9 seems like a safe bet, but Computerworld says otherwise.
As we lead up to the launch of the iPad 3, how will Apple's competitors respond? One might expect a Windows 8-related announcement from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). In fact, that's just what the company is doing this morning at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Still, Microsoft has been rather content to play a game of wait-and-see, knowing that by the time Windows 8 arrives, consumers will be anticipating the release of the iPad 4. For better or worse, it might be better for Microsoft to worry about that device instead of the impending iPad 3.
While Samsung was quick to launch an Apple TV sneak attack earlier this year with a new line of “smart” televisions, the company does not seem to have any plans to counter the launch of the iPad 3. This Thursday, the company will launch the Galaxy 7.7 Tab, an oddly-sized tablet that is sure to serve its core market…of about five people.
It's easy to understand Samsung's strategy here. The company wants to manufacture as many smartphones and tablets as possible in an attempt to reach as many consumers as possible. This allows them to cash in on markets that Apple can't reach (with smartphones, at least – not so much with tablets). Still, without any groundbreaking revolutions in the works, Samsung doesn't have any reason to make a significant announcement next week.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), on the other hand, has every reason to step into the spotlight. It can't steal the show and turn next week's biggest tech headlines into “Google Unveils Brilliant New Tablet!” That just won't happen. The iPad 3 could be the most meaningless upgrade in the history of Apple products and tech blogs will still provide it with more coverage than any other device.
But after Google proclaimed that it wanted to beat the iPad, the company can't let March go by without announcing something.
It doesn't have to be next week. If Google realizes that it can't win the media war, then it knows it should probably wait a couple weeks for the iPad 3 dust to settle. At that point, if Google were to make a big announcement, it would be viewed as this shiny alternative to an Apple device that will likely be held up at retail by months of shortages. By unveiling a potent competitor, Google would essentially tell consumers, “Couldn't get an iPad 3? Great! We have a stellar alternative.”
The most challenging part of this strategy – or any marketing campaign Google could employ – is that consumers are already in love with the iPad. Not the third iPad specifically, but the iPad as a whole. While some customers may jump ship if the shortages are extreme, most Apple fans are scarily loyal. If they have to, they'll wait six months to get an iPad 3 – knowing full well that the iPad 4 could be released a good six months after that.
That's why it is imperative that Google comes forward sooner rather than later, especially if its first tablet is going to be released this spring or summer. If Google wanted to wait until November, it could feasibly keep the details of its tablet a secret until October and then cash in big on holiday shoppers. But then it would have to compete with the next iteration of the Kindle Fire, a device that has already proven to be a huge hit for Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). Google would also face stiff competition from Windows 8, which is sure to launch with a couple of intriguing tablets (or so I hope).
If Google made an announcement in the coming weeks, however, it would get a jump on every competitor whose name doesn't rhyme with Snapple (NYSE: DPS). That could be crucial in picking up sales from consumers who don't automatically plan to buy an iPad 3 this year – or a heavily discounted iPad 2.
Even then, Google has a tough road ahead. The company has yet to power a true iPad-killer with the tablet-optimized version of Android. Last year, Chrome OS failed to live up to expectations (my personal expectations were rather low for the online-only OS, so I can't say I was too surprised).
So while Apple released the iPad to a legion of loyal iPhone and iPod Touch fans, and while Amazon released the Kindle Fire to a crowd of loyal shoppers (and Kindle e-reader fans), Google is coming at the market without a diehard fan base. Most Android users buy Android phones out of convenience, price point, or because they were the only option available. (Remember: up until last year, Sprint (NYSE: S) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) did not have the iPhone.) On the flipside, many people bought the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S because they love the Apple brand.
Without that kind of loyalty going into the market, Google must find a way to spark our interest and encourage us to buy its device. The only way it can do that is by designing the best tablet possible – and then make sure consumers sit up and take notice.
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