Color me puzzled. Google has announced and is accepting pre-orders of its own entry in the Tablet world. The Nexus 7, made by Asus, is a 7 inch Tablet supposedly targeted at both Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Apple’s iPad. Lots of folks are excited about the Nexus Tablet and deservedly so. The under $200 price point will certainly make a lot of folks take a look, and from the early reactions to the device the hardware looks to be quite nice.
But then there’s the software. Or rather the OS. Alongside the Nexus 7 Tablet, Google is rolling out an update to Ice Cream Sandwich, naming it Jelly Bean and giving it a point update to 4.1. But here’s the thing that I find confusing. I’m reading reports that the OS, while apparently having solved some of the laggy touch issues that Android on Tablets has been sadly known for, is actually designed for smartphones and not Tablets. Yeah, you read that right and it is a head scratcher. Both James Kendrick and Pocketables have some interesting writing on this that’s worth a read.
Before I get to the confusion that I’m experiencing let me state up front that with some exceptions this might not necessarily be a bad thing given the size of the form factor. Those exceptions include the fact that you’ll have to root your device and edit a system file if you want your home screen to flip into landscape mode. Call me crazy but when it comes to Tablets I think the screen should be capable of displaying what an App brings to the table in any orientation. So, I agree with James that this kind of UI restriction on a Tablet can be annoying, but I’m guessing there are some in the market who won’t care one way or the other. Certainly we are used to the portrait home screen metaphor on our smartphones.
But on to the confusion. Google’s business strategy so far on Tablets (and smarthphones for that matter,) has allowed OEMs to do what they want. The Nexus 7 Tablet, (like the Nexus variants of the Android smartphones) is supposed to set a standard for how Google sees the Tablet experience. Or at least that was my perception. If that’s the case, is Google sort of giving up on the Tablet front (meaning larger devices), instead focusing on smaller devices that are essentially media players? There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s the case. But I do find it curious that for awhile now we’ve seen versions of Android on smaller devices that contain the phone bits. They also have to be sold with some sort of data contract. I have to admit, I’d have been really interested in a Galaxy Note if it didn’t have the phone functionality and carrier overhead. I’m sure Samsung is scratching its head about this as well. Is Google saying that Samsung and others can now break away from the carriers on future devices? That would be intriguing given the subsidized price points that we’ve seen them sell for in the recent past.
Essentially, Google has created a mystery here that we probably won’t have answers to for awhile yet. It would easy and premature to say that Google is giving up on larger Tablets and creating a Tablet UI based on this news. But then again, if this signature device is meant to send a signal, I’m not sure which one Google is sending.