The Nexus 7 has doomed the traditional Android tablet
Google’s new tablet has given Android the breakthrough it needs against the iPad, but at what cost? Damien McFerran investigates
The recent success of the Nexus 7 must be particularly satisfying for Google. The company has been trying to crack this lucrative sector of the market ever since Apple unveiled its iPad back in 2010, and gaining a foothold now could prove to be vital as the mobile computing industry grows.
Google has certainly thrown a lot of weight behind the product - it’s cheap and features cutting edge tech in the form of Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chipset - but in doing so, the company could well have harmed the short-term health of the Android tablet market.
Up until the release of the Nexus 7, most 10-inch Android tablets had typically retailed for around £400. With its super-low price point of £160 (for the 8GB model), Google’s new 7-inch device has effectively pulled the rug from beneath the likes of Samsung, Motorola and Sony.
What real chance do these firms have of hawking their tablet devices at twice the RRP of the Nexus 7, when many of them are actually underpowered when compared to the Asus and Google collaboration?
It was always going to take something dramatic to break Apple’s vice-like grip on the tablet sector, so you can hardly blame Google for releasing the Nexus 7 at such a low price.
The company can afford to take a hit on hardware, as the Nexus 7 is seen as a vital revenue stream, pushing users towards the Google Play market where they will download premium content and thereby earn Google additional cash.
However, the company’s hardware partners don’t have this additional flood of revenue to fall back on and consequently cannot sell their devices at a similar level. By shifting the Nexus 7 at a price that is dangerously close to cost, Google could well have doomed the rest of the Android tablet market – a market which has struggled in the face of the iPad’s continued popularity.
So where does that leave the traditional Android tablet sector? Clearly, any new slates released from this point onwards are going to have to really differentiate themselves greatly from Google’s product.
We may see some manufacturers apply heavy UI skins to their devices in order to make them stand out from the crowd - something which won’t find favour with staunch Android traditionalists, but could tempt newcomers or even existing iPad owners.
It’s also possible we’ll start to see a broader range of tablets, with companies looking to find a unique selling point with which they can build a brand out of. The same kind of diversity exists in the mobile phone sector, with devices like the HTC EVO 3D and Sony Ericsson Xperia Play offering something that their rivals can’t.
Google has gotten what it wanted, and finally has an iPad challenger that lives up to the hype. But at what cost? Google needs its hardware partners to remain strong, and if they abandon the Android tablet sector due to lack of potential profit, that could ironically put Apple in an even stronger position.
Whatever happens in the next twelve months, it’s clear that the Android tablet market is at a crossroads. The success of the Nexus 7 has proven that the iPad is beatable, but only if the price is low and the hardware is powerful.
With Apple apparently preparing an iPad Mini, which is sure to sell for less than £300, third party Android tablet manufacturers are going to find themselves squeezed even further - something which could result in many turning their backs on the tablet sector altogether.