At Dogpatch Studios, an event space in San Francisco, Google executive Sundar Pichai unveiled new devices Wednesday morning.
Android, Google’s mobile operating system, has conquered smartphones, neatly trouncing Apple in worldwide market share. But now it has set its sights on tablets.
Pichai pointed out that tablets were set to overtake sales of consumer PCs this year, largely taking over the once-thriving market for netbooks and other low-end notebook PCs. (Just yesterday, Apple reported that its iPad sales fell 14% in the quarter that ended June 29.)
The Next Nexus 7
“Nexus 7 has been a big hit, and we’re going to try to follow up,” said Google executive Hugo Barra, who joined Pichai on stage and unveiled a new version of the 7-inch tablet. “It’s the power of Google in your hand.”
See also: New Nexus 7 Leaked By Best Buy
The original Nexus 7 had a great form factor for watching video. Its exterior, however, was marred by a cheap plastic back and a general lack of fit and finish that made it unpleasant to hold.
The new one is even more optimized for watching clips, with a faster processor and 1080p video. Tellingly, a representative from Netflix is in the audience, and Netflix is releasing a new Android app that supports the Nexus 7’s video features.
Models range from $229 to $349, with higher-end models having support for LTE wireless networking. They go on sale July 30 in the United States and in other countries “in the coming weeks,” Barra said.
Android 4.3 Unveiled
The new tablet is the first to ship with Google’s Android 4.3 operating system.
Android 4.3 has some family-friendly features, like “restricted profiles” for children, which should make it easier to share a tablet at home, where most are used.
Barra also showed off OpenGL ES3—a graphics technology which got a lot of talk at Google’s recent I/O conference for developers—delivering what he called “a new level of photorealism” for games and other apps.
But the strength of the device, as highlighted by Barra, was less in the hardware and operating system than in Google’s own portfolio of apps, like Google Maps and Google Hangouts, the new video-chat service that’s rolling up Google’s fragmented chat and messaging products.
Tablets Getting More Play
Google’s also emphasizing third-party apps designed for tablets, making it easier to browse its Google Play store for tablet-optimized apps. Google is both automatically categorizing apps specifically designed for tablets and creating hand-selected lists of the best tablet-friendly apps.
For games, Google now has a Google Play Games app, similar to its broken-out versions of the Google Play store for books, magazines, and movies and TV shows.
And textbooks are likewise getting a category-specific app, with digital textbooks available to rent or buy starting in August.
The new Nexus 7, like its predecessor, happens to be a great device for watching video. And Google, of course, owns YouTube, the world’s largest video site.
Only 15 percent of households have figured out how to get online videos on their TV, Pichai said.
Google’s solution is a tiny, 2-inch fob called Chromecast, which runs a version of Google’s ChromeOS. It plugs into any TV with an HDMI input.
Google’s YouTube apps—on Android and other operating systems—are getting a new “cast” button, which allows them to serve as a remote control for the TV. That sidesteps a massive problem most online-video-to-TV solutions have, which is dealing with clunky TV remote controls.
Google already has similar solutions in place with some digital-TV services, like Verizon’s FIOS, through its YouTube Pair service. In fact, it works very similarly to YouTube Pair. But Chromecast doesn’t require Google to do deals with TV service providers.
Chromecast also works with video apps like Netflix and music apps like Pandora. And a new feature, still being tested, will display any tab from Google’s Chrome Web browser onto a television.
It’s retailing for $35, and Netflix is offering three months of free service with purchase for a limited time.
What It Means
The takeaway: Google is aggressively pricing its hardware to push its services, especially video. And in the wake of a recent reorganization that brought together its Chrome and Android teams under Pichai, its showing how its mobile and desktop operating systems are growing ever more closely linked.