Did Google Reinvent the Tablet, or Do Another Wave?

Google announced its tablet and some other things besides, and the question now is whether there’s some grand strategy at work here or just a bunch of geeks throwing products at a marketplace.  I think there’s some thinking here, but whether it’s sound thinking remains to be seen.

The Nexus 7 tablet is pretty much what it was rumored to be, which is a kind of super-Kindle-Fire.  Like Kindle Fire, it’s aimed at the content consumption market, but unlike Amazon Google doesn’t have history in the book and content space, though they did announce enhancements to Play to include the sale of movies.  Either Play is going to be expanded rather radically to come close to matching Apple and Amazon or they’ve left the Nexus at the alter.  But even with a bookstore and content to match Amazon, all Nexus can be is an up-and-coming Kindle Fire competitor, and that’s not enough.

One might wonder why Google would take a swipe at an Android friend instead of the Apple enemy, and the answer is twofold.  First, they can’t swipe at Apple directly without hitting the 10-inch models of all their prime Android partners.  Second, Amazon isn’t an Android partner, they’re a user of the open-source earlier version, from which Amazon created their own code fork.  They don’t really promote Google’s agenda.

Nexus does run the new Jelly Bean version of Android, which will surely put pressure not only on the mainstream Android tablet community to stay up to date, but also perhaps pressure Amazon to opt into Google’s Android community instead of using free software.  The new Jelly Bean gets good reviews from pretty much everyone, and Google has also included a developer kit that will facilitate partner customization of this and subsequent versions, which they clearly hope will further drive the convergence of the community on a single version.  I think it’s very possible that some of the tablet vendors (like both my own and my wife’s) who have not yet released Ice Cream Sandwich may jump over it to Jelly Bean.  It would be smart.

The next thing on Google’s inventory of announcements was the Nexus Q, which I think Google intends to be a combination of a home social video platform and even a home control platform.  The Q is a sphere that has no screen but that can be controlled online from pretty much any Android device.  In media terms, the Q acts as a kind of anchor process that can mediate among home devices to deliver video to any of several, in succession or together.  You can do screen-switching at least in-home with it, and I think Google plans to broaden this capability by adding cloud support down the line.  They seem excited about the prospects of having a house full of Qs collaborating on stuff, and this is where I believe the hope to expand more into home automation and other similar monitoring and control tasks, with or without developer support.  Since Q is about twice the price of Apple TV there’s going to have to be a kicker here in some form.

From developers?  That’s too much to ask.  Google Wave failed because Google let others drive the process with minimal guidance.  So far, arguably, they’ve let others carry the water for Android too.  If Nexus 7 means Google knows they have to play a greater role, the new role they’ve defined isn’t sufficient.  What is most lacking is the vision of the cloud that could unify everything—that MUST unify it.

Google has generated three announcements and an Android version upgrade, and separately what they’ve done is interesting but not market-shaking.  Potentially the four things could combine to create a new direction for Google, one that takes a more participatory role in the appliance space, pushes Google more into an Amazon-like retailer, validates a socially integrated cloud that extends through the home and to all a user’s devices…a lot of really good stuff.  Will any of it happen?  Right now we can’t be sure.


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