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3 things Google should do for tablet success

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY It's almost taken for granted by research firms like IDC that Google (GOOG) Android tablets will eventually dominate the market. There's some sense behind the prediction. The analysts looked at what the operating system did in smartphones and how Android sales -- including Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle Fire -- did last quarter. Eventually, the combination of more choices (including many at lower prices) and the concentrated firepower of so many manufacturers will constitute a tide that the iPhone can't keep back.

But the situation with the iPad may be different. Apple (AAPL) continues to pull away, the company's product increasingly has compelling features (like the Retina display), and Android hardware manufacturers are having a hard time getting their acts together. So maybe Google shouldn't wait around for the inevitable -- in case, as they say in investing, the past isn't a guarantee of future performance.

Here are three things Google could do to help turn Android into an overwhelming force:

1. Get a few good apps

The notion that the company with the most apps wins is naive. If that were true, Android would never have had a chance, even on smartphones. The intellectually cleansing reality of history says otherwise.

However, Google does face a problem. Many of the apps that get the most attention appear first on Apple's iOS. The lag can run months. (The popular app Instagram finally came out for Android.) The total number of apps may not be important, but people buy computers -- and that's what a tablet is, after all -- to run software. Fail to have the right software and you'll also fail to have the customers. Top apps can act like an anchor store in a mall. They bring in the traffic, and then you can offer other things that people also might find interesting.

There are a number of reasons why developers have gravitated to Apple. Market share and sales volume are two. So is the relative difficult of coding for Android, given the wide variation in operating system versions and hardware configurations. What could counter that? Old-fashioned, commercially legal bribes. Pay developers to start on Android and then go to the iPad -- or at least get the most important ones onto Android as quickly as possible.

2. Make the Google tablet great

Google wants to enter the tablet hardware business. That also shouldn't surprise. The company bought Motorola, after all, and tablets are a logical extension of smartphones. As important, Google wants to create a vision of what Android devices can be. That's what the idea behind the Nexus was (only no one had considered that when it came to customer service and resolving problems, the vision could become a nightmare as easily as dream).

Only, tablets are more than just a bigger handset. Apple has the advantage of having helped create the smartphone market and of having the expertise in desktops and laptops, so it had a sense of the different way people might use devices.

Google will need some of that breadth of understanding, so it should go out and hire the design expertise -- and then listen to the people it hires. Don't assume that engineers know best, because often they don't. They can tell you how to build something, but not necessarily what to build.

And if Google is to be successful, this tablet has to be beyond any reasonable doubt (which means everyone but the most devoted Apple fanboys) a beautiful, functional, superior device.

3. Buy T-Mobile

AT&T (T) wanted T-Mobile, but ultimately couldn't get it because it would reduce competition. That wouldn't be the case for a Google acquisition. Google has already shown that it wants into the telecommunications business, whether through a one-time bid on wireless spectrum or building out high-speed fiber Internet access.

Owning a carrier would give the company the latitude to really do business differently. Instead of bleeding customers, have one side of the house truly subsidize the other. Make less on hardware or on services, though more in total. Focus on the tablet as a way to convince people to get a second wireless account, then work like crazy to delight customers and maybe get the rest of their business. Make having a Google tablet on a Google network a choice that consumers would have to be crazy to pass up.

None of this would guarantee Google's success, but the status quo favors Apple. Why not tip over the cart and change the basic operating rules?

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