Android-powered smartphones aren't much of an underdog anymore, but an entire class of less pocketable Android devices isn't leaping off the shelves so much as dying on the vine. Now that Google's sealed the deal with Motorola, should we expect a brighter future for Android tablets - or is the iPad just too mighty to take down, even for a streamlined hardware manufacturer/software designer power duo?
What to Expect From a Nexus Tablet
We might not know much about it yet, but by all accounts, a Nexus tablet seems imminent. Most early rumors have pegged Asus as the manufacturer of the first Nexus-branded tablet, but until Google I/O next month, anything is possible - including Motorola behind the wheel. Google is reportedly taking a different tack with its own tablet, whittling down the price to a rumored $199 or even a rock-bottom $149 to compete with the Kindle Fire. The Fire remains the most successful Android tablet to date - even if it's just barely running Android - accounting for a whopping 54% of Android tablets sold in the U.S. Beyond its price, Google's first Nexus tablet is expected to pack a 7-inch display, putting it in the ring with both Amazon and Barnes & Noble's entry-level slates, which are smaller, more e-reader-sized affairs. The Asus MeMo 370T tablet could be the next Nexus, but if the somewhat oddball pairing between Google and Asus doesn't pan out, Motorola isn't just in the wings anymore - it's in-house.
Either way, the move to a 7-inch Nexus tablet would be a departure for Google. Ever since its humble origins with HTC's Nexus One in 2010, Nexus branding has only graced new flagship devices, which tend to boast powerful processors paired with the very cutting edge of Android, delightfully unmolested by manufacturer skins and bloatware. But if price is the name of the game, Google will have to forego some hardware muscle, possibly ditching the rumored Tegra 3 quad-core processor that powers Asus' dark-horse hit, the Transformer Prime. But what it might lack in raw power, a 7-inch Nexus tablet could make up for in software: It's widely expected to debut Android 5.0, aka "Jelly Bean", the next evolution of Google's mobile OS.
What Will a Google Motorola Tablet Look Like?
Google's Nexus line has had a number of bedfellows, but it's never shacked up with the manufacturer of the Droid that started it all. The Motorola acquisition will mark a new era of coziness between the companies, and an aesthetic shift as well. The most recent crop of Nexus smartphones have been sculpted in Samsung's sleek but plasticky vision of its mobile devices, but Moto's design sensibilities are decidedly more industrial - just take a look at the warzone-ready Droid Razr and its Kevlar and Gorilla Glass shell. The manufacturer's tablets share a similar aesthetic, with a rugged, futuristic look, and cropped corners to please any Battlestar Galactica fan.
Could Motorola Build a Bigger Nexus?
If Asus winds up being the manufacturer of a low-end 7-inch Nexus tablet, that doesn't mean that Moto isn't setting the stage for an Android tablet comeback. Motorola debuted the very first Android Honeycomb tablet back at CES 2011 with the 10.1-inch Xoom tablet, which fit the bill for a Nexus-branded device but didn't formally carry the name. Motorola is known for its high-end Droid-branded smartphones, like the recent Droid Razr Maxx. While Nexus devices have been singular affairs in the past - the name graces just one device per loose "generation" - the advent of a Nexus tablet might make room for two. Google could partner with Asus on a smaller, less powerful Nexus tablet, while leaving it to Moto to craft a real flagship slate at 8.9 or 10.1 inches, running pure Android. Now that Google's brought Motorola into the fold, a strongly branded Android tablet to rival Amazon's Kindle Fire could be a salve on the $1.7 billion the hardware manufacturer has hemorrhaged in the last three years.
Samsung and HTC have stolen the show when it comes to Android smartphones, and Motorola might be well-served to rethink its mobile strategy and take a smarter stab at building a tablet. Motorola's Xoom and the Xyboard were both respectable enough devices - and refreshing departures from Samsung's sea of Galaxy whatnots - but closer integration with Google could give the manufacturer a real edge, especially with Android 5.0 on the horizon. But even if Motorola builds it - and Google sells it - will they come?Whatever happens with the Nexus line, Motorola is still a smart asset for a refreshed bid for relevance in the tablet market.