Opinion: Is Nexus 7 a game changer? Yes, but for Google Play

Tablet is a Trojan Horse

Opinion: Is Nexus 7 a game changer? Yes, but for Google Play
The mainstream media's reaction to the unveiling of Google's Nexus 7 was as predictable as it was lazy.

Within minutes of the tablet making its debut on the stage in San Francisco, news channels were hurriedly filing reports pitching it as "Google's answer to Apple's iPad".

I hope there's not one reading this article, however, who sees Nexus 7 in that context.

Indeed, if forced to summarise Nexus 7 - created by Asus and anointed by Google -  one would most likely describe Nexus 7 as a head-on reaction to Amazon's Kindle Fire.

Here's a 7-inch Android tablet selling for $199/£159, sporting the latest version of the OS (Jelly Bean or Android 4.1) and coming equipped with hardware that out performs Amazon's device in every regard.

In those terms, it's hard to imagine Nexus 7 won't do as well as (if not significantly better) than Kindle Fire.

But, if we know its impact on iPad is likely to be minimal - and taking into account Google's admission that it will make no money whatsoever on each device sold – the question that immediately comes to mind is, why does Nexus 7 exist?

It takes two

Those sitting at Google's top table likely see two main benefits.

Like Microsoft's Surface, Nexus 7 will set a benchmark for Android tablets as a whole - something that's been wholly lacking to-date. 

While Android has surged to the top of the tree in the smartphone wars, Google's platform still boasts less than 10 percent of the tablet market.

Nexus 7 is no doubt intended to show Samsung, HTC etc where they've been going wrong, and provide a blueprint for any tablets that follow. For Android smartphone owners waiting for a cheap Android tablet outside the US, too, this will likely be a default purchase.

The other advantage, broadly hinted at by Google's Andy Rubin during at interview with AllThingsD, is that Nexus 7 will give Google Play a solid foothold in the tablet market.

As well as Amazon's Kindle Fire did in its early weeks on sale in the US, it did so for the benefit of the online retailer's own marketplace, Amazon's Appstore for Android.

On this score, both Google and Amazon's strategies are largely identical: hardware being sold at cut price as a means of locking users into their vertical software and media store.

That's the game Apple has been successfully playing for the past five years. 

Converting the converted

Of course, there's no guarantee either of this advantages will come to pass. Indeed, when it comes to setting a new benchmark for Android tablets, I'm a little sceptical about Nexus 7.

Though you can pick up Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab for around £200 in the UK, I think the combination of Android 4.1 and the device's Tegra 3 chipset will galvanise the operating system's fanbase.

Nexus 7 will nab sales from other Android devices, and likely encourage customers-in-waiting to finally make the leap to pick up their first tablet running Google's OS.

Yet what this does apart from annoy OEMs already delivering their own devices, however, I'm not sure.

Speaking as a consumer who has no desire to pick up an Android tablet, Nexus 7 brings very little new to the table to make me change my mind. It may be a flagship product, but it's one that refines what's largely already available, rather than one that pushes the sector forward.

If people are expecting Nexus 7 to single handily turn the tide for Android tablets, then I fear they'll be disappointed.

A new beginning?

What Nexus 7 may well do – in much the same way as Surface – is force the hand of other tablet manufacturers.

I would put money on Samsung serving up something to rival Asus's device within the next 6 months – in terms of design and implementation, the Korean firm has the measure of its Taiwanese rival.

Google, too, will likely enjoy the fruits of an expanded Google Play userbase, which in turn may lead to developers serving up a rush of games specifically aimed at tablet gamers. But one device won't be enough to turn the tide. 

None of this, however, suggests a real changing of the tablet landscape. Nexus 7 is a sign Google recognises Android tablets have been without drive or vision when left solely in the hands of manufacturers.

It remains to be seen whether repackaging the kind of product Amazon and Samsung have arguably already served up, however, will give Android tablets the momentum they really need to succeed.

Perhaps the joker in the pack on this score remains the Google-owned Motorola.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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