Google released a new tablet device overnight, and all signs are suggesting this may be the first gadget to mount a significant challenge to Apple’s market dominance – and Australians won’t be waiting long to get it.
But the new Nexus 7 device wasn’t the only surprise Google pulled at its I/O Conference, where the search and mobile giant unveiled a chance for attendees to pre-purchase a pair of the company’s “Google Glasses” before a 2013 release – for a cool $US1,500.
The company also showed off the new version of Android 4.1, nicknamed “Jelly Bean”.
Most of the details of the device leaked out before the event – including a surprising rumour that the gadget would be priced at just $249, and that it would launch in Australia next month. That’s turned out to be true.
Google Australia was contacted for comment this morning, but a reply was not available prior to publication. The Google site appears to show the product available for order in Australian currency – $249 for the 8GB version, and $299 for the 16GB.
It ships in two to three weeks. Usually, Australian users have waited months after launch to get their hands on Android devices.
The seven-inch screen places Google squarely in competition with devices such as the Galaxy Tab, and the Amazon Kindle Fire, rather than acting as a direct competitor to the iPad.
But with such a low price point, it also means Apple’s dominance could be under threat, as shoppers will be able to access a more powerful, high quality device for a cheaper price.
The budget tablet market has been criticised for offering under-powered devices. But as Ovum analyst Jan Dawson points out, the Nexus 7 is “an important step forward for Google’s Android tablet strategy”.
“It breaks the dichotomy that exists presently between low-priced, low performance devices and over-priced, high spec devices.”
The company showed off the new seven-inch device overnight, which features 16GB or 8GB of internal storage, powered by an nVidia Tegra quad-core processor and featuring a 1280×800 display.
“We wanted to design a best-of Google experience optimised around the content available at Google Play,” Android head Hugo Barra said during the demonstration, confirming the company is keen to focus on content rather than hardware power.
“It has always been a goal of the Nexus program to provide you with the best-of Google experience the way Google envisions it.”
The Nexus will come powered by Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which brings a number of new features to the platform. Google said this morning it wants to emphasise Google Play on the Nexus, which allows users to buy movies, music, books and other types of content.
It also features an eight-hour battery life, a front-facing camera, and weighs about 340 grams.
The release of the tablet also comes alongside some upgrades to the Google Play store, which has added more films and television shows.
The Jelly Bean software’s new features include a faster keyboard and voice dictation. “It makes everything smoother, faster and more fluid,” the company said on its blog.
“The keyboard is smarter and more accurate, and can predict your next word. And voice typing is faster, working even when you don’t have a data connection.”
Another new addition in Jelly Bean is Google Now, which allows your phone to keep track of your location, search results and usage habits to create real-time data you’re likely to use, such as local weather results, along with the phone numbers of stores you’ve previously searched for.
Google also says that it can figure out your favourite sports teams and then provide scores, or even give updated traffic information for your daily commute.
But not everyone is convinced. Despite some good initial reviews from hands-on time at the I/O Conference, Dawson says Google still has a few problems to overcome.
“The Nexus 7 borrows heavily from the Amazon Kindle Fire in that it puts content front and centre, but it doesn’t solve the biggest challenge for Android tablets: the lack of apps optimised for the larger screen size.”
The screen size can be a problem, especially as users are already used to the larger, 10-inch iPad. And although the price point is a win for budget consumers, Dawson says it may not turn out so great for Google.
“In addition, the price point likely benefits from some subsidy and therefore isn’t sustainable in the long term – Google still needs to solve the fundamental problem of Android tablets, which is the lack of compelling apps and content optimized for the devices.”
This story first appeared on SmartCompany.