Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
As if deciding which tablet to buy weren’t hard enough already.
Last Wednesday at its annual I/O conference for developers, Google announced that it would be adding yet another item on its extensive list of products and services: the Google tablet. The Nexus 7, as it’s called, is Google’s new seven-inch, Android-based tablet and will be manufactured by Asus, a computer hardware manufacturer in Taiwan. The highly-anticipated announcement is yet another departure from Google’s traditional (and extremely lucrative) business of search, by which it earns the majority of its profits.
The tablet is second in its line of Nexus hardware; the first, the Galaxy Nexus phone, debuted last December. A third device, called the Nexus Q, was also unveiled at the conference last week. Resembling a small black globe, Nexus Q functions much like the Apple TV—though, as Google distinguishes, it is “the first social streaming media player” (italics mine).
Priced at $199, the Nexus 7 stands to compete directly with Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Also like Amazon, Google can afford to sell the hardware at below cost since it stands to make its profits once customers start using the device, through its core business: advertising. Nexus 7 boasts a battery life that provides up to nine hours of HD video playback, 10 hours of web browsing or e-reading, or 300 hours of standby time. It has a NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 quad-core processor, and was “designed with gaming in mind.” Think of it as an interface to access all media on Google Play: including over 4 million ebooks, 600,000 apps and games, along with music, movies, TV shows, and magazines.
In comparison, Kindle Fire promises “up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback” with the wireless turned off. It weighs 14.6 ounces, while the Nexus 7 weighs in at only 12 ounces. Kindle Fire is 11.4 mm thick, whereas Nexus 7 is 10.45 mm. With 8 or 16 GB of storage space (the 16 GB version will retail for $249), Nexus 7 offers a bit more than Kindle Fire (there’s only an 8 GB model), which, according to Google, amounts to approximately 20,000 songs. With all these itsy-bitsy improvements over Kindle Fire’s technical specifications, you can’t help but notice that Google has used its late entry to the tablet wars to its greatest advantage.
The option to pre-order Nexus 7 is available at Google’s website or GameStop, and devices are currently scheduled to ship within two to three weeks. It will be interesting to see if Nexus 7 can pose a real threat to Kindle Fire or the market-leading Apple iPad. In a review, Gareth Beavis of TechRadar, who had the opportunity to handle the device at the conference, sums up the positive and negative aspects of the device:
Do we like the Google Nexus 7? Yes, without a doubt. For the money you’re getting so, so much: a quad core Tegra 3-powered device with a 12-core GPU and a HD screen…Do we need local storage when the cloud is there, ready and waiting? Yes, we still do—and Google’s entry into the tablet market could be marred by such an error. People want media on tablets—they perhaps aren’t as bothered about the phone as a personal movie theatre, but when users can only download two or three HD movies onto their device before it’s maxxed out—well, that’s a cause for concern. But speaking of concern, there will be some panicked brands out there who have carved out a living making cheaper tablets with low-end specs; the Google Nexus 7 has just blown all of them out of the water.
Of course, we’ve heard this story before from Google, and we all know how that turned out. Excitement about other tablets powered by Google’s Android tablet-optimized operating system, such as the Motorola Xoom and Sony S1, quickly deflated in the weeks after their debuts. But Nexus 7 is something different—this is Google’s official branded tablet. The risk is higher, but the likelihood that this tablet will succeed where others have failed is higher, too.
So is Google now a hardware manufacturer? It certainly seems that way.
Its other forays into hardware have not been without their problems, however, and just last Friday a district court judge suspended sales of its Galaxy Nexus phone in the United States while awaiting the resolution of a patent infringement lawsuit between Samsung, the phone’s manufacturer, and Apple. Apparently, not everyone will welcome Google to the already competitive hardware market with open arms.