Google launches Nexus S smartphone, eBookstore, but no release dates for Australia

Internet giant Google has launched a new eBookstore and an updated version of the Nexus smartphone overnight, with the gadget featuring a wireless technology that will allow users to make contactless payments.

But Australian users are set to be disappointed. While the original Nexus is available in Australia, Google won’t confirm a release date for the new gadget and local users can’t buy eBooks from the new store either – although the company says it is working with publishers.

The Nexus S was announced by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt earlier this year, when he showed off a prototype at the Web 2.0 conference. But the gadget has been officially announced now, and will appear in stores from December 16 in the US and from December 20 in Britain.

Google is using the device to push Android as the leader in in the smartphone war, with the release coming just a few days after data from ComScore showed Android gained 6.5% to 23.5% in the three months to October.

“We co-developed this product with Samsung — ensuring tight integration of hardware and software to highlight the latest advancements of the Android platform,” Google said in a blog post last night.

“As part of the Nexus brand, Nexus S delivers what we call a “pure Google” experience: unlocked, unfiltered access to the best Google mobile services and the latest and greatest Android releases and updates.”

The gadget ships with a new version of the Android platform, called Gingerbread. Developers also have access to an SDK for the new software, which is essentially Android 2.3.

The new gadget features a 4″ display, a 1Ghz processor, front and rear cameras, 16GB of internal memory and gyroscope sensor support through the new Gingerbread software. But the biggest feature is the use of NFC – near field communication technology, which allows users to make payments via wireless technology.

“NFC is a fast, versatile short-range wireless technology that can be embedded in all kinds of everyday objects like movie posters, stickers and t-shirts,” the company says.

Google says it will be some time before NFC becomes a mainstream form of payment, but other tech companies such as Apple are already experimenting with different types of wireless payments as well. The iPhone maker is currently conducting a trial in New York City to allow metro travellers to pay for tickets with their phones.

Some reviews are already floating in. On TechCrunch, Michael Arrington wrote the gadget is well-built, and the capability for the phone to be unlocked and used on overseas carriers was an advantage over other handsets.

“NFC will also allow for phones to swap data between each other with a minimal amount of hassle, as soon as developers add support for that (the Nexus S chip supports both read and write operations). This is basically future-proofing the phone, and a year from now I expect that most Android phones (and likely iPhones) will be shipping with NFC.”

Arrington also wrote that if users have to choose between a Nexus S and an iPhone, then “we recommend that you go with the Nexus S. It is better than the iPhone in most ways”.

Meanwhile, the company also launched its new eBookstore last night, following a few weeks of speculation. Google says the new store’s attraction is its openness – users are able to download books for any device, including the Android, iPhone or even the Nook eReader.

But the store does not offer books for the Kindle, as the gadget uses its own proprietary format. A Google spokesperson said that “we are open to working with Amazon in the future”.

Analysts suspect the introduction of the eBookstore is an attempt to beat Amazon at its own game.

Google has released various apps for all of these devices, but users are also able to buy books and read them through a web-based browser. In a blog post, Google says the advantage of its store is that “you can buy, store and read Google eBooks in the cloud”.

“That means you can access your eBooks like you would messages in Gmail or photos in Picasa — using a free, password-protected Google account with unlimited eBooks storage.”

But the store isn’t available in Australia yet, and British users have reported the store isn’t available there either. While this is typical of eBook stores, as content providers need to deal with each district’s publishers directly, it’s especially frustrating for users and the process could take months.

Google was contacted for comment this morning regarding the prospective launch date of the eBookstore in Australia but no reply was received before publication.

The launch also comes as the company is embroiled in a legal battle over its Google Books plan, which is designed to scan and digitise every book in the world. But Google says that project is separate to Google eBooks and will run alongside it.

“Launching Google eBooks is an initial step toward giving you greater access to the vast variety of information and entertainment found in books,” the company says.

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