SOMETECHFORTHEWEEKEND: In a significant week for the tablet market, Google unveiled the Nexus 7, the first to come from the search giant, while Samsung was frozen in the US due to its patent spat with Apple. Andrew McDonald reports.
Google’s I/O conference in San Francisco this week produced a raft of news, ranging from the launch of new home-streaming device – a futuristic-looking ball called the Nexus Q to its Google Glass demonstration, featuring a live linkup to a skydiver wearing Google’s nifty new line of web-connected eyewear.
However, perhaps the most significant announcement was the launch of the Nexus 7, the first tablet device that Google has played a hands-on role in developing, and one that threatens to significantly shake-up the iPad-dominated tablet market.
Due to ship in mid-July, the Asus-developed device, designed to tie-in closely with Google’s entertainment store Google Play, has impressive specs. The 7-inch HD screen device comes with a quad-core chip, 1Gb of RAM, either 8 or 16Gb of storage, a 1.2Mp front-facing camera and will carry the most recent version of Android, nicknamed Jelly Bean.
At just US$199 – half the price of Apple’s iPad – it will also go head-to-head with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and marks a concerted effort by Google to boost Android’s presence in this market.
“In combination with a number of applications optimised for the Nexus 7, including YouTube, and some bundled content out-of-the-box, the introductory US$199 price point it is sure to bring a welcome shot in the arm for the Android platform in its effort to crack the tablet space,” claims Informa Telecoms Media analyst David McQueen.
The move seems well timed. A new report by NPD DisplaySearch this week said that use of tablets by consumers for viewing TV and video content more than doubled in the 14 regional markets surveyed – including the UK, US, Japan, France, Russia, Turkey and Brazil.
However, according to recent stats by research firm IDC, Apple accounted for a massive 68% of the global tablet market in the first quarter, with Android devices actually dropping steeply in the quarter compared to Q4 2011. Perhaps this was why Google wanted to bring the Nexus 7 to market so quickly – according to reports, Google gave Asus just four months to develop the product.
Google’s wasn’t the only tablet news this week. On Tuesday, Samsung was dealt a blow after a US court backed Apple’s request to have sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 blocked in the country as part of an ongoing patent struggle between the two firms.
The injunction, granted ahead of a trial that is scheduled to begin at the end of next month, applies to the specific model of Android-based tablet that was introduced last year, not the Samsung’s second generation of the device, which launched last month.
Apple claims that the device infringes on a design patent for the iPad and swiftly made the necessary US$2.6m bond payment to enforce the injunction. However, as of today, Samsung had already reportedly petitioned to have the sales ban – which had already previously been rejected by court- suspended
The ruling was the latest in a slew of patent litigation between the major mobile device and electronics manufacturers. Just last week, Apple had a separate patent claim against Google-owned Motorola Mobility, seeking a ban on Motorola smartphones, dismissed by a US judge.
Elsewhere in the tablet world, the launch of Microsoft’s two new Surface devices is still causing ripples in the tech world – though not necessarily the kind that the software giant would want. After that awkward moment last week when Windows president Steve Sinofsky struggled to make a device work during the Surface launch event, the product line has come under more flak this week.
In an interview, Acer senior VP and president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Oliver Ahrens, said that Microsoft’s efforts to go it alone – manufacturing and selling the Surface tablets itself – was a risky strategy. “I don’t think it will be successful because you cannot be a hardware player with two products,” he said. “I worry that this will lead into a defocus internally for Microsoft, and then we have to suffer because we are working with their Windows products.”
Elsewhere, there was much debate over whether Microsoft had bungled by not keeping its over manufacturing partners informed over its Surface plans. Reuters reported last week that many of the firm’s PC partners had only learned of the new device days before it was announced. “The secrecy that shrouded the Surface tablet risks alienating Microsoft’s hardware partners, and marks a departure from the software company’s tradition of working closely with hardware companies to test and fine-tune every new product,” it reported.
At least Microsoft has kept itself occupied with other concerns. Earlier this week the firm bought business social network Yammer for a cool US$1.2bn in cash. “The acquisition of Yammer underscores our commitment to deliver technology that businesses need and people love,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. However, it is yet to be seen whether the move will be enough to diffuse Google’s threat to Microsoft’s Office software business.