Google takes on rivals with new tablet

June 27, 2012 7:34 pm

By Tim Bradshaw in San Francisco

Google opened two new fronts in the computer hardware wars on Wednesday with the launch of a new 7-inch tablet and a living-room media device running its latest Android software that it hopes will challenge Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

At its annual developer conference in San Francisco, Google unveiled the $199 Nexus 7 tablet, built in partnership with Asus, the Taiwanese developer, which runs its new Jelly Bean version of Android and undercuts the $399 price of Apple’s entry-level iPad. It also showed off a new media-streaming device, the Nexus Q.

The two devices illustrate how software and internet companies such as Google and Microsoft are shifting towards building their own desirable hardware that taps their users’ cloud-based media, apeing Apple’s longstanding approach of integrated technology and content.

Microsoft last week launched its Surface tablet, stressing the desirability of its magnesium-alloy casing and taking its first big step into computer hardware design to complement the latest version of its Windows operating system.

The wireless, spherical Nexus Q is “not just another black box”, Google said, while stressing the media capabilities of the Nexus 7, which it said had a high-definition display, faster graphics chips and is the weight of a paperback book.

In an effort to catch up with what analysts have seen as Apple and Amazon’s advantage in content for tablets, Google announced new TV and movie deals with studios including Disney, NBC Universal and Paramount, as well as a range of magazines available on its Google Play app store, through new partnerships with publishers such as Hearst and Condé Nast.

The tablet will ship in mid-July to the US, UK and other countries. The latest version of Android, rolling out in the same period, also offers new voice-search capabilities, akin to Apple’s Siri virtual assistant.

A new contextual search tool called Google Now uses individuals’ location, calendar and search history to offer live information about traffic and sports scores that it believes they will be interested in without actively searching for it.

Both devices also integrate Google+, Google’s year-old social network. A front-facing camera on the Nexus 7 will allow people to join its “hangouts” – group video chats – while the Q will allow friends to collectively create playlists of music from their smartphones.

Google+ now has 250m registered accounts with 150m monthly active users, with more using the service from mobile than desktop computers.

Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said Google was learning lessons from Amazon, which also offers a $199 tablet based on Android.

“Google can see that the only way to beat the premium-worthy iPad is to go for the millions of customers who are ready for smaller and cheaper tablets and then grow those customers into more Android powered devices and, more importantly, Google-powered services like Google Play and whatever paid video experience YouTube will likely create,” Mr McQuivey said.

“That range of services will be the secret to stitching together this rag-tag fleet of Android gadgets into a platform that can compete with Apple for minutes of users’ attention rather than premium-device dollars.”

Users of Android smartphones and tablets are being added at a rate of 1m a day to reach a total of 400m globally, said the product’s director Hugo Barra, with the 600,000 apps now available on Google Play having been downloaded a total of 20bn times.

Growth is particularly rapid in emerging markets such as Brazil, India and Indonesia, Mr Barra said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.


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