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Looking back: How the Google Nexus 7 changed the tablet landscape

With Google I/O starting tomorrow, and rumors of a second edition of the 7-inch tablet at full strength, we take a look at the impact the first-gen Google Nexus 7 had on the Android world.
May 14, 2013


With Google I/O 2013 starting tomorrow, we have a lot to look forward to! We still aren’t exactly sure of what Google has in store for us, but among a slew of rumors and possibilities running rampant is speculation about a second edition of the Asus-made Nexus 7. If true, the new Nexus 7 will feature specifications that keep up with the times, while once again boasting a very reasonable price tag, which is really exciting.

Of course, the reason for this excitement is because of the great reception the Nexus 7 – the first Android tablet under the Nexus series – got when it was announced at the same event last year, becoming one of the best-selling Android tablets available since then. While not matching the sales numbers of the iPad, the Nexus 7 still managed to have a profound effect on the tablet market.

The Nexus 7 arrived at a time when Android tablet manufacturers were struggling to make an impact in a highly-competitive market, and showed other OEMs how it should have been done. Google wasn’t taking on the iPad with the Nexus 7, but did attempt to do so more directly with the Nexus 10 that was released by the end of 2012.

Before the Nexus 7, the most popular 7-inch Android tablets were the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and the Amazon Kindle Fire, and the latter was, in part, the motivation behind Google jumping into the tablet gameSuddenly, wanting to buy an Android tablet with more than decent specifications didn’t require you to fork over $500+, and while not without its flaws, the Nexus 7 became the go-to tablet for a lot of consumers.

With the possible arrival of the next Nexus 7 this week, we take a look at some of the reasons why the first-generation model managed to shake up the tablet landscape.

Specifications vs Cost


The rumors surrounding the release of the Nexus 7 last year meant that we knew almost exactly what to expect by the time the tablet was released. But unlike with other device leaks, the pre-launch confirmation of the Nexus 7specifications didn’t do anything to  quell the excitement. Things got even better during the launch, with the announcement of the $199 and $249 price tags for a device with high-end specifications.

At the time, falling in the same price range was the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, which featured a 1GHz dual-core processor, 1GB RAM and 8GB internal storage for $249. Packing a 7-inch IPS display with 1280 x 800 resolution, 1.2Ghz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, and 1GB RAM, the price of the Nexus 7 was surprisingly low, and is obviously one of the many reasons the tablet was popular. Granted, compromises were made including the lack of a rear camera and microSD slot and the limited 8GB internal storage (the effectively 5.5GB space available to the user wasn’t nearly enough). But the last issue was corrected later that year, with the 8GB version being dropped, and the price of the 16GB version falling to $199. A 32GB version was also introduced.

With the arrival of the Nexus 7, you could now get your hands on an almost high-end tablet at a comparatively low price. The device completely shook up the tablet market, as far as the question of specifications vs  cost was concerned.

The latest software


The biggest advantage with any Nexus device is the fact that you’ll always be the first to receive any software updates, with a gap sometimes as big as six months before non-Nexus smartphones and tablets catch up, and that is, of course, if OEM “support” isn’t discontinued. Of course, this (as well as the previous point) is true for all Nexus devices. But while Nexus smartphones were already around for a while, the Nexus 7 was the first tablet to provide this edge.

The Nexus 7 was launched with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on board, and also introduced Google Now. All subsequent minor and major (up to Android 4.2) updates were available immediately after they were announced. With that in mind, if the latest iteration of Android is announced this week, the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10 will be one of the first tablets to receive it (keeping in mind that the rumored new Nexus 7 will release with the latest version).

Android tablet (and smartphone) manufacturers have had a difficult time with timely updates for their devices, and with the Nexus 7, users could finally get their hands on a tablet that would always feature the latest Android software.

App developers join the party


One of the biggest complaints about Android in the past was the fact that there weren’t enough apps optimized for tablets on the Google Play Store. With the release, and subsequent popularity, of the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10 later in the year, that has slowly changed, with more and more developers now finding it worth their while to update their apps for the larger form factor.

While the situation is far from remedied, the Nexus 7 definitely led to this issue coming to the forefront. Following the release of the tablet, I remember a lot of apps featuring an update with the changelog including the words “optimized for the Nexus 7.” This wasn’t only to optimize the app for Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but also to accommodate the larger display size. Google joining the tablet game led to the company finally taking an interest in tablet apps as well. Last year Google released an “Tablet app quality Checklist,” followed by an update to the Tablet App Guidelines And Screenshots, encouraging developers to not only optimize their apps for tablets, but also to build apps that are specific to tablets.

Tablets owners are always on the lookout for tablet-specific apps, and with the growing popularity of the Nexus 7, Nexus 10, and Android tablets in general, quite a lot of developers have stepped up. Of course, until there’s a proper “Tablet apps” section on the Google Play Store, it’s still quite a difficult task to sort out which apps are best suited for your device. As a starting point, at least now there’s a “Featured apps for tablets” on the Google Play Store.

Let the competition begin


Google noticed that the 7-inch form factor could be a success if done right. The Amazon Kindle Fire was one of the best-selling tablets of 2011, and the 2012 follow up, the Kindle Fire HD, has been boasting impressive sales numbers as well. But, with the forked and closed Android version that the Kindle tablets are running, Google wasn’t making much out of the them. So, apart from offering a viable high-end alternative to consumers at the same price range, the Nexus 7 allowed Google to profit more directly from the Android tablet market as well.

The Nexus 7 also took on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, which was another very popular Android tablet at the time. While the Galaxy Tab 2 offered a rear camera and a microSD expansion slot, the processor and the display of the Nexus 7 were better, with both devices priced the same. Another obvious advantage the Nexus tablet had over its Samsung counterpart was the always updated software, which was something Samsung couldn’t do.

The pricing strategy used by Google was definitely surprising, and caused every Android tablet OEM to take notice. Granted, while Google can live with cutting the profit margins by a big amount, it isn’t entirely feasible for non-Nexus tablet manufacturers to do the same. Nevertheless, over the past year, we’ve seen a growing number of budget-friendly 7-inch tablets being released, all hoping to mimic, and even surpass, the success of the Nexus 7.

Surprisingly, one of the the companies that decided to make the first move was Acer with its Iconia A110 that featured mostly similar specifications to the Nexus 7’s, but packed a display with a lower resolution (1024 x 600) and microSD slot. $250 got you the 8GB version, which was further expandable via microSD up to 32GB, as opposed to the 32GB version of the Nexus 7.

Acer has since followed it up with the Iconia B1, which is priced at around $150 for the 16GB version. Granted, the specs don’t match up to the Nexus 7 or even the Iconia A110, but isn’t a complete slouch in that department, and is significantly cheaper. Also looking to take on the iPad Mini, Acer has also recently announced the Iconia A1, which features a MediaTek quad-core processor, and 7.9-inch display.

Asus didn’t want to be left behind either, even though it did manufacture the Nexus 7. Asus launched the MemoPad 7, which is a tablet along the lines of the Iconia B1, and is priced similarly, at $150. Falling in the Nexus 7 price range is the Asus FonePad, that was launched at MWC 2013. Priced at $250, the design of the FonePad is very similar to the Nexus 7, but the device is powered by a 1.2Ghz Intel processor and offers phone call and SMS messaging support.

Furthermore, there are a slew of low cost 7-inch and 8-inch tablets in the works, not to mention the numerous low-cost tablets available from unknown Chinese and Indian manufacturers. It’s a difficult choice to make when deciding between so many options, but I’d personally still pick the Nexus 7 over any of the above mentioned tablets. At that price, the Nexus 7 is practically unbeatable.



As you can see, the Nexus 7 played a big role in changing the Android tablet market. A low price didn’t mean compromising (too much) on high-end specifications. The tablet app ecosystem got the push it deserved, with developers finally getting a reason to develop specifically for tablets, and the competition is certainly heating up in the tablet arena.

The Nexus 7 won the Best Tablet award at this year’s Global Mobile Awards, and rightly so. It’s amazing to think that this is just the beginning. With the possible arrival of the second edition of the Nexus 7, we can only wonder how the latest release will impact the Android world.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that the Nexus 7 was a game changer? What are your expectations from the new Nexus 7?