I would love to have read the minds of the product director or VP marketing of any major company that produces Android products when they witnessed the launches of the Nexus 7, the Nexus 4, the Nexus 10 and the latest Chromebook in rapid succession in July and October.
In just four months, Google launched four affordable market-leading and paradigm-shifting products, albeit with the help of carefully selected partners; LG did the Nexus 4, Samsung the Chromebook and the Nexus 10, and Asus the Nexus 7.
But more interestingly, the release of all four have been very much led by the search giant. They all carry unaltered versions of Google’s OSes (Android Jelly Bean and Chrome OS) without any fancy UI, have been launched at Google events and are presented (at least in Google’s marketing literature) as Google-branded products.
Hence the landing page of the new Chromebook says that it is the “£229 laptop from Google”. Not a single word about Samsung. Ditto for the Nexus 4 (new smartphone from Google), Nexus 7 (first tablet from Google) and the Nexus 10 (powerful 10-inch tablet from Google). Nowhere in the copies are mentions of the respective partners (LG, Asus and Samsung).
With that in mind, it is interesting to gauge Google’s new pricing and product strategies. Both the original Intel-based Chromebooks and the first Nexus smartphones were criticised for being too expensive. The Google Nexus S cost a whopping £549 at launch, the Galaxy Nexus went on sale for £515 in November 2011 and the Chromebook was available for £349 at launch in June 2011.
Compare that with the launch prices of ARM-based Chromebook (£229) and the Nexus 4 (£239), lump in the prices of the Nexus 7 (£159) and the Nexus 10 (£319) - and consider the fact that these devices come with cutting edge features and components - and there’s one apparent conclusion surfacing.
Google wants to win the war it is waging against Apple (and possibly against Amazon) at all costs by attacking it where it hurts the most, in its pockets. And even if that means hurting its strategic partners in the process, who may end up as unwilling collateral victims.
By offering top of the range specifications in Google-branded devices with a very slim margin, Google is hoping to lure those Apple adopters who are coming out of their 18 or 24-months contract and face the prospect of jumping on a more expensive plan or forking out £529 for a smartphone.
Also, it is interesting to note that Google put a lot of thought in choosing its Nexus partners. Neither Asus, nor LG or Samsung are major players in the segments in which they launched new Nexus products, which means that they wouldn’t have much to lose in these categories should the products become popular. A very Machiavellian plan if it proved to be true as it includes pitting one partner against another.
The unwitting winner of the battle between Apple and Google might incidentally be Microsoft, with Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT (which may combine to become one unified operating system in 2014). Microsoft, which has quietly extended its controversial patent licensing scheme to nearly 70 per cent of the Android market in the United States, could use licensing to leverage Windows Phone/Windows RT adoption and subsidise other Windows licenses, potentially putting off Android partners from pushing their own agenda.
Obviously, Microsoft could also opt to emulate Google & Apple (as it did with the Surface tablet) and squeeze out partners while improving its own bottom line and profitability.
Should Google and Microsoft both go down that route, the only obvious answer for the likes of Samsung, Intel, Huawei and Panasonic, is to, well, start their common own software platform.
Which is exactly what they have been doing with Tizen, born from the merger of Bada OS, LiMo and Meego.