Google on Wednesday announced the tablet we all expected, the Google Nexus 7, a Kindle Fire contender but also a device meant to show its Android partners how an Android tablet should be made in Google’s vision.
Of course, that tablet vision has changed in time, and Google’s Senior Vice President of Mobile Andy Rubin has acknowledged that fact in an interview with AllThingsD:
Rubin admits that he was upset a year ago that Android tablets just weren’t selling. After looking into some of the reasons, Rubin learned that while hardware really matters on phones, consumers are buying into a content ecosystem with tablets. Or, in Google’s case, not buying into an ecosystem.
In particular, Rubin said that Google lacked some of the ecosystem pieces that were necessary, such as a full compliment of TV shows, movies for purchase, and magazines that people want to consume on a tablet.
Because, let’s not forget, the Motorola Xoom, while lacking Nexus branding, was the Android tablet people expected to fight the iPad and iPad 2 last year. The device ran a vanilla Honeycomb version and was developed in close collaboration with Google. That was just one of last year’s Android tablets that “just weren’t selling,” and that became even more obvious when the Kindle Fire was launched in late 2011 and became an instant success.
AllThingsD also talked to Asus Chairman Jonney Shih, who revealed that building the Google Nexus 7 was quite a challenge for the company. Asus had a team of engineers working on “Project A-Team,” as it was known inside, with some of them working on location in Silicon Valley to be closer to Google. And the project required more and more engineers along the way working in a 24-hour development cycle across the globe.
According to Rubin, Asus was the best team for the job on a product that moved “from zero to working product in four months.”
But will the Google Nexus 7 be a success similar to the Kindle Fire? Considering what’s under the hood, and the fact that Google has increased its digital content catalog available from Google Play, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Google sell a few millions ultra-affordable $199 Nexus 7 units. And while Google will hardly make any profits from tablet sales, the tablet will help them lure more people in to the Google universe where they’d make money for the company from ads, Google’s main revenue stream, but also from content sales.
What Google is not changing, is its policy on tablet apps. Android apps can run on any device, no matter how big the display is, scaling accordingly to fit it. This is a “feature” highly criticized by the competition – the lack of properly formatted apps that would take advantage of a larger display – but Rubin said that “Google is sticking with its strategy of encouraging developers to write a single app for both phones and tablets, while taking some care to make sure the layout and button size are optimized for larger-screen devices.”
Also worth noting is that Google’s OEM partners will certainly be annoyed to have to compete against a product that offers an impressive specs sheet but is very cheap for the crowds. Unlike Google, Android tablet makers can’t make money from ads and/or content, so they won’t be able to sell products similar to the Nexus 7 and turn a profit at the same time. However, that doesn’t appear to be a problem for Google, with Rubin insisting that “there is plenty of room left for Android tablet innovation.”