Nexus 7: it's all about the content

02 Aug 2012

Google’s line of Android devices has long been the ultimate Geek status symbol; the cutting edge of technology. From the original Google development phone to the 1-GHz HTC Nexus One, the NFC enabled Samsung Nexus S to the relatively more incremental Galaxy Nexus, the latest Nexus 7 tablet has a lot to live up to.

But rather than pushing the performance envelope, the Nexus 7, the launch vehicle of Android 4.1 Jellybean, is significant for the ecosystem that Google has put in place around it.

That’s not to say the device is bad, but it does not ooze the quality that Samsung or Motorola tablets do. It has a lovely IPS screen which offers great viewing angles but lacks the punch and contrast of AMOLEDs. The quad-core Tegra 3 is fast, but many lesser tablets should also feel much faster once a Jellybean update comes their way. At a $199 price-point, the Nexus 7 is the cheapest quad-core tablet out there today.

After a week of using the Nexus 7, I have come to the conclusion that the hardware is not really the point that Google is making with this generation of Nexus.

It is not about new and different apps, current phone apps can work fine on a tablet with panes and more resolution, but it is all about richer media such as movies and books. It is not about competing with the iPad, but rather with iTunes, and while they are at it, Amazon Kindle, LoveFilm, Hulu, Netflix and all the other OTT players as well.

The Nexus 7 comes with $25 or ₤15 of credit for Google Play and a copy of Transformers : Dark of the Moon.

Google Play Movies and Google Play Books are, like the Nexus 7 itself, available only in a few select countries right now. Movies can be rented and played back either streamed instantly or pre-loaded to the tablet.

Transformers is a good example to show off the quality of video. On a good WiFi over copper ADSL connection, streaming varied from good to passable. The detail of the Transformers design obviously suffered from compression. However, with the video pre-loaded onto the device, it was simply wow. Well, as wow as 720 HD can be, with the detail of each of the robots in sharp detail. Pity the Nexus 7 does not support the micro-USB to HDMI adaptors that many other tablets and indeed the previous two Nexuses supported as it would be interesting to see how it compared to Blu-Ray on a proper 1080 HD screen.

Google Play Books might not quite have the traction of Amazon’s Kindle yet, but interestingly enough, one book I just happened to be looking for, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, was not available on the UK Kindle store, but was on Google Play Books. That said, it was considerably more expensive than the cost of a paper copy from Amazon so I decided to wait instead.

Of course, Amazon’s Kindle app runs nicely on its 1280x800 7-inch screen (higher resolution than most 7-inch tablets including the Kindle Fire; the same as the first generation of 10-inch tablets) and Netflix looks beautiful too, but the way Google Play takes pride of place on the home screen once you turn on the machine the first time may well make it the store of choice.

With Jellybean, Google has added 18 new languages, including Thai, Hindi, Hebrew and Arabic. Previously most top-tier manufacturers did their own localisation. The lock-in from only being able to buy localised devices in-country is now coming to an end. What was not announced at Google IO was how Google had been busy behind the scenes localising Google Play as well.

Of the new languages, I only know Thai and it is interesting to note that Google Play Movies, Google Play Books and even Google Play Devices page selling the Nexus 7 itself have all been translated into Thai. However, all of that is still hidden to most as those sections of the Google Play stores are not accessible from within Thailand unless through a VPN.

One can assume then that a renewed push for Google’s paid-for content is imminent beyond the English speaking world. Books and videos which will use up lots of bandwidth and propel Google into a serious content OTT player and onward to world domination.

The question is, what’s in it for the rest of the industry?

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