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Google unveils branded tablet; media device & Android 4.1

The Google Nexus 7

At its annual developer conference this week, Google “opened the playground” with a glimpse of what the future holds for the Android ecosystem. The next version of the flagship OS was on display alongside the first Google-branded tablet and a confusingly positioned home entertainment unit that hints at the firm’s foray into hardware.

Android 4.1, or Jelly Bean as it’s known, follows up from Ice Cream Sandwich and promises to make the Android experience “smoother, faster and more fluid,” as well as introducing email or call functionality directly from notifications. Search has been redesigned from the ground up, with a focus on improving voice search to compete with Apple’s Siri.

The first Google-branded tablet, the Nexus 7, was also put up for pre-order: a 7” 1280×800 HD display with Tegra-3 chipset, quad-core CPU and 12-core GPU. First launch markets are the US, UK, Canada and Australia with the device going for $199 from mid-July. Asus is understood to be the manufacturer of the device.

Commenting on the Nexus 7, David McQueen, principal analyst at Informa, said the announcement tablet is sure to ruffle a few feathers, most notably its other OEM Android partners who also have 7” Android tablets in market. “Aimed squarely at taking on Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 is packed with high-spec hardware, including a quad-core processor, and the new Android v4.1 software, Jelly Bean, that is claimed to offer a faster, smoother and more consistent user experience. In combination with a number of applications optimised for the Nexus 7, including Youtube, and some bundled content out-of-the-box, the introductory $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.  By also using this set of differentiators, notably price point and screen size, the Nexus 7 has positioned itself far enough away from the Apple iPad that it can grow volume in the segment and carve out significant market share, whilst also hopefully pulling its OEM partners along with it.”

With a nod to its own designs on the hardware space, Google also unveiled a sphere, the Nexus Q, which combines Android and the Google Play market to stream music and video in your home by plugging into a speakers and TV in the house. Available first in the US, for $299 from mid-July.

Andrew Ladbrook, senior analyst at Informa, said that despite some very high specifications and a very attractive unique design, the Google Q device is underwhelming. “The majority of the features on offer can already be found in Apple’s Airport express devices and Apple TV. It is also an ill fit into Google’s wider Android strategy; its high price point will depress sales reducing its role as compliment to the Android handsets. Consequently Google Q devices are unlikely to have the same lock in effect as Apple’s cheaper Airport express and Apple TV devices. It is particularly strange that the media sharing feature at the heart of Google Q has not in some form been pushed into Google TV, this could have been a real boon for the struggling TV OS. It is hard to say if this device marks the first of many Google devices, but if it does, it suggests that Google’s purchase of Motorola really is just the start of Google’s transformation into a hardware player.”

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