Google launches its mini-tablet in India today. Significantly undercutting Apple’s iPad Mini, the Nexus 7 aims to popularise these new devices in the same way that Amazon’s Kindle made e-readers mass-market. But the company’s ambition is wider than that – it sees inexpensive computers running the living room and the lives of millions of users. And it wants to be the company that makes the software used on all of them.
The 7-inch device aims to take a different, cheaper route, leaving the very premium end of the market available for manufacturers such as Samsung, who use Google’s Android software, to compete with Apple’s all-conquering, iPad. Google has added TV, magazines and movie purchasing to the Play Store, its rival to iTunes, so that it can challenge Apple effectively. Indeed, Google described its new tablet as “built for Google Play”.
Google has identified two ways to tackle Apple – the first is to improve how all Android devices run by offering a software upgrade called Jelly Bean for phones and tablets. The aim is that people who use an Android phone will enjoy the experience so much that they will want to complete the “ecosystem” with an Android tablet.
Google has tried, under the codename Project Butter, to make the software smoother and, to borrow a word from Apple, consistently “delightful”. It’s an apparently subtle change that should make a big difference to how people feel their phone or tablet works. The brain, Google points out, can detect a lag of even 10 milliseconds in how a touchscreen works.
All of this points towards Google putting its set of products together in a cleverer way – but they still need the army of software developers that has so far congregated around Apple.
With Nexus 7, Google wants to make the ubiquitous tablet. The 7-inch screen does everything it needs to with a resolution of 1280x700 pixels, and at 340g it weighs enough to feel substantial without being burdensome. Battery life is claimed to be 9 hours of video playback, and getting those sorts of basics right will be crucial. The “quadcore” processor certainly feels more than fast enough.
Google claims the device “just feels right” – they’re not making grand claims, but they’re aiming far beyond the small minority of global web users who are iPad fans. This is a pretty good first shot at that target.