Neither the hype nor the secrecy was quite the same at Google I/O in San Francisco as it was for Apples World Wide Developers Conference or Microsofts announcement of the Surface tablet, but it was still what weve all come to expect at a tablet-related announcement these days.
This time, Google product managers teamed up to tell the world about Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and all of the reasons why it was the coolest thing for mobile devices since night baseball. Then the hardware guys took over to announce the Google Nexus 7 tablet, which by total coincidence runs Android 4.1.
Theres no question that the Nexus 7 (the 7 is supposed to be written as a superscript like this: Nexus7 but nobodys actually going to do that because its too much trouble) is a nice tablet. It has most of the right features, including an Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor and a 12-core GPU. Theres an accelerometer and an electronic gyro. It does Near Field Communications, Bluetooth and dual-band WiFi. The Android interface has been redesigned so that it keeps content front and center, sort of like the Kindle Fire.
The content issues should be no surprise since its clear that this particular action in the Tablet Wars is aimed at arch-enemy Amazon, which Google apparently finds to be evil because its not also featuring Google content. But content is what the Nexus 7 is all about as the company explains on its Google Play ordering page. Priced at less than $200, the device isnt really aimed at the Apple iPad or the Microsoft Surface. But its likely that the feature-rich, low-cost device will have an impact on tablet design at those companies.
What the launch of the Nexus 7 does do is add another layer of complexity to the 7-inch tablet field. This isnt to suggest that a little complexity is a bad thing, since it also means a richer field for product selection. But there are already a LOT of 7-inch Android tablets available, along with some that dont actually run Android. So what makes the Nexus 7 important?
Perhaps the most important factor is that Google clearly intends the Nexus 7 to be a reference platform. The company bills it as being made for Google Play, and as such it is tied into the cloud-based Google content store and into Googles cloud. You can store your own content there and you can pay for downloads of video, music, books and magazines. It is first and foremost a content consumption device.
Of course, Google has taken a page from Apple and Microsoft in much of what the tablet can do. Theres a Siri-like service that answers questions in a soft female voice.
Makers of 7-Inch Tablets Must Watch Prices Carefully
It anticipates what you might want from your search history and the information Google knows about you (which might be more than you know about yourself). It will also tie into Googles other cloud-based packages, from Google + to Google Apps.
While the Nexus 7 isnt really aimed at enterprise usersGoogle plainly referred to it as a consumer electronics device in its announcementit will ultimately affect the enterprise. Some of the features, such as the close integration of search with the calendar, will ultimately prove to be very useful to business users as well as consumers, for example.
Unfortunately, it may not do a lot to beef up the hardware offerings from the likes of the iPad or the Surface. The Nexus 7 only has a front facing camera and theres no support for external memory. While it will feature an HDMI port, this isnt going to be the enterprise grade tablet that Microsoft is building. Its also not an iPad wanna-be, lacking the ability to support LTE and it lacks anything like a Retina display, for example.
But what it will do is keep the price pressure on the midmarket. If Apple decides to launch an iPad Mini, as has been rumored, the Nexus 7, along with the Kindle Fire, set the expected price point. What will more likely happen is that other 7-inch tablets are going to have to up their game and watch their prices carefully. Competing against the Nexus 7 in its own area of the business is going to be tough.
The Nexus 7 will also raise expectations for larger tablets. Some of the features of Android 4.1, such as the vastly improved animation, will make other tablets of all types look clunky. The heavy dependence on the cloud will provide nearly instant access to information, while extracting a heavy price from non-WiFi tablet users. But that doesnt mean that users wont want smooth animation. It just means that it will provide another way for carrier data plans to annoy users.
Its worth noting that Google also introduced the Nexus Q, a spherical media center Android computer thats designed to be controlled by an Android device and make it easier to share media and display it on large screens. The Nexus Q is intended to cement Google into the whole entertainment ecosystem. Of course it will have to fight Apple and Microsoft for this as well. The good news is that eventually most of these capabilities will filter into the enterprise and make things work better there as well.