For years, consumers have been looking for an alternative to the iPad. The obvious place has been Android, but in reality nothing really stood up against Apple’s mighty slate. Either the price was too high, or it came with a contract from a wireless carrier, or it just wasn't good enough. Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG and a host of other companies tried to make great Android tablets at reasonable prices, and each achieved varying degrees of failure. A quick look at Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet shows us it has the potential to not just best all the other Android slates on the market - and Amazon’s Kindle Fire - but perhaps even challenge the dominance of the iPad.
Android Jelly Bean
Google did not build Android originally with the thought of putting it on tablets. To this point, it has been a struggle for any Android device that is not a smartphone to really look great and function well on a tablet. Theoretically, that was supposed to change in February 2011 when Google announced Android 3.0 Honeycomb, designed specifically for tablets. The first iteration of a Honeycomb tablet was the Xoom, created by Motorola.
It was basically terrible.
Android apps on the Xoom did not look or perform well on the device. It was clunky and did not perform as well as its impressive hardware specifications promised it should. And it was expensive. It started at $899 unless you wanted to tie it to a two-year contract from Verizon, in which case it was $699. It was a consumer dud and partially ruined the demand for tablets.
Other Android tablets that have come since have not been much better. Samsung has a variety of Galaxy-branded tablets that are all ho-hum devices. Other tablets ran Android versions like Gingerbread 2.3, which were not intended for larger screen sizes.
What has changed? Foremost, Google combined the development of Android apps to be compatible with both smartphones and tablets when it released Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich late in 2011. In terms of tablet user interface, Ice Cream Sandwich was a big jump for Android. Yet, to this point, there are no meaningful tablets running ICS.
That is why the Nexus 7 is incredibly important. It will ship with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and be optimized to the newest version of the operating system. That means that it should run apps on bigger tablet screens as the developers intended them to be used. It will have all the Android goodness that people like, such as live widgets (which are now responsive to a particular home screen’s real estate), dynamic sharing abilities through Google Beam, and a user interface that is easier to use, more intuitive than Honeycomb ever was and generally superior to everything that came before it. Jelly Bean should be the new standard for Android tablets, and in that, consumers, developers and Google all win.
This is where it gets interesting. Essentially, what Google just announced was a full-featured 7-inch tablet manufactured by Asus. By full-featured, we are not talking specifically about the software that Android Jelly Bean brings to the table.
The Nexus 7 has a 1280x800 display. That is nowhere near the Retina display that the new iPad has, but it's still better than almost every other Android tablet available. The display is made with scratch-resistant corning glass (which is in no way revolutionary but a nice addition to the Nexus 7) and has a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera. It does not have a back-facing camera, but in reality it does not really need one. Hardly anybody actually takes pictures with their tablets, especially with dynamic smartphone cameras already in their pockets.
It weighs 340 grams (roughly .75 pounds) and is very thin. It has a quad-core Tegra 3 processor and an additional graphics processor with 12 cores. In non-techie terms that means that it will be extraordinarily fast, play movies and render video games extremely well. A couple of the games that Google showed off at its I/O conference could likely challenge many platform games (like on Xbox) in terms of dynamic functionality and gameplay.
But, these are things that many people would expect from just about any tablet: the newest and best processor, better displays, some type of front-facing camera. What is interesting about the Nexus 7 are the variety of sensors that will be available in the tablet. It will have a microphone, NFC, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, GPS and a magnetometer. All of these sensors directly tie in to capabilities that will be provided through Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and make the Nexus 7 one of the most dynamic tablets (from any vendor) on the market.
The store formerly known as the Android Market (now Google Play) is central to the experience of the Nexus 7. Much like Amazon has done with the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 is a showcase for all of the content that Google sells through its primary online store. Magazines, apps, movies, music, books and TV shows will all be optimized toward purchasing and consuming on the Nexus 7.
The user interface of the Nexus 7 is geared toward getting consumers to purchase content in Google Play. It has a rotating “carousel,” in much the same way as the Fire, that showcases magazines and movies. The Nexus 7 is fundamentally an Android tablet that can do just about anything you might want to ask of it (within reason), but really, it is also a showcase device for consumer content.
Other Android tablets on the market, most notably the Samsung Galaxy Tab line of devices, offer impressive hardware specifications as well. The problem with many of those Android tablets is that they do not come in at a price that consumers want to pay for the hardware and software they are getting.
The Nexus 7 will start at $199 with 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. That is a price that Amazon proved with the Kindle Fire that consumers will pay. Considering that the hardware of the Nexus 7 is much more impressive than the Fire, that automatically makes the Nexus 7 the premier 7-inch Android tablet with potential to sell very well.
There are a couple aspects about the hardware specs that do inform the low price of the Nexus 7. Notably, it does not have a back-facing camera and all the sensors that make a higher megapixel camera work. That certainly cuts down on the price. It will be interesting to see what else is missing from the Nexus 7’s hardware that will also inform the low price.
Google will be selling the Nexus 7 through its own device website and on Google Play. The company has not announced whether or not we will be able to find it in retail stores such as Best Buy at this point, but it will likely make its way to other channels (offline and online) by the end of the year.
To purchase a Nexus 7 or at least check out its specs, click here.
Will the Nexus 7 Be the Android You’ve Been Looking For?
Really, Google put all the pieces together. Price, software, hardware and content all play prominently on the Nexus 7. If we have learned anything from the tablets that have come before, including the iPad, Kindle Fire and other Android tablets, it is that good hardware and software at a reasonable price from a prominent vendor will sell well. Google is not reinventing the wheel with the Nexus 7. It is just building a very good wheel that you can afford.
Will that translate into runaway consumer success? That is hard to tell. Of all the Nexus devices that Google has released in the past, none have faired particularly well with consumers. History tells us that Google’s strategy is sound, but predicting the mind of the fickle consumer (a populous that has been enamored with the iPad) is difficult.
Are you going to consider a Nexus 7? Let us know why or why not in the comments.