WSJ: Google Planning To Sell Tablets Straight To Consumers

Here we go again: the rumors of Google branching out into the tablet space have been floating around for what seems like ages now, and the Wall Street Journal has jumped into the fray. They cite the usual handful of unnamed sources, who this time say that Google is planning to open up their own online store à la Amazon to sell Android tablets.

Not just any Android tablets, mind you — co-branded ones that bear Google’s name along with that of the manufacturer. Google does many things (some better than others), but they’re definitely not in the consumer hardware production game. Instead, Google is said to be working with hardware experts at Asus and Samsung (and presumably Motorola at some point), and is also considering the possibility of subsidizing the tablet’s price to fall in line with devices like Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

If these whispers hold true, then Google could be onto something. That theoretical store could already have a flagship if the oft-rumored $199 Nexus Tablet actually materializes, and the package only gets sweeter if it ends up running Jelly Bean, which the WSJ reports will hit in mid-2012. To date, the only Android tablet to give the iPad a run for its money is the Fire, but if Google can get close in price while beating them out on specs, Amazon could be in trouble. The formula may not exactly prove to be an iPad killer, but a strong second place in the tablet race is nothing to sneeze at.

What gets me though is how Google is reportedly thinking of selling these things. Google has toyed with this sort of online retail model before — the Nexus One was sold unsubsidized by Google, even though T-Mobile provided the network for it. By the time Google’s next Nexus made the rounds though, the search giant wised up and tapped Best Buy to help put the Nexus S into people’s hungry hands. Getting those tablets out into meatspace could do wonders for visibility, and brick and mortar retail certainly has a sense of immediacy about it — there’s little delay between seeing something you want and owning it.

Still, the direct-to-consumer approach has its advantages. By cutting out the retail middleman, Google gets to retain that much more control over the situation (not to mention the revenue they don’t have to share with stores). The Nexus One seems like a dicey precedent, but people who shied away from it didn’t do so because it was a bad phone, they did so because it was $529.99 without a contract. With potentially aggressively priced tablets and a decent payments system in tow, Google should be able to lock up this new revenue stream pretty tightly. That is, of course, if they can keep on top of demand for a cheap, Google-approved tablet.