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Google paddles in the Android hardware market for two reasons – first because it sets standards for Android devices and secondly its revenue model is all about advertising and services – it can afford to take a bath on hardware.

First a little history to bring you up to speed on why these devices have been so important to Google’s Android aspirations.

Nexus devices by definition are plain vanilla Android - no manufacturer’s customisation, skins, Telco modifications and are totally unlocked. As much as anything they set the standard for Android and allow other manufacturers to up the ante on producing more feature rich competitors. The phones and tablets are made by various OEM’s.

Smartphones were first

Nexus 1: HTC produced the first in January 2010 and this 3.7” smartphone’s performance was pretty underwhelming. It also suffered from using non-upgradeable Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

Nexus S: Samsung made this 4” smartphone released in December 2010 and it got a good run until October 2012. It started life as a Gingerbread but was updateable to Jelly Bean. It generally received good reviews and this is credited with giving Samsung the inside running to take over the Android market.

Nexus Galaxy: Samsung released this 4.65” smartphone in November 2011. It had a dual core processor and even had an LTE version. It was the defining moment for an Android handset.

Nexus 4: Made by LG (not to be outdone by Samsung – for more see iTWire article here) was released in November 2012 and is still available. It received good reviews and bought much needed credibility to LG’s handset business. But lack of LTE support and world economic woes made this a slow sales performer. Google is rumoured to be subsidising the price to sell below cost at under $400 which for a 4.7” Gorilla Glass smartphone is OK but not great.

Tablets were also part of the Nexus experiment.

Nexus 7: made by Asus released July 2012 is still available and selling from AU$249 (astute shoppers can do better on-line). This 7” tablet has sold well against the Kindle Fire but is not making great inroads into the iPad Mini market. At the time it was leading edge tech but now suffers from a 1.2GHz quad core and 1GB RAM when with the benefit of “Moore’s Law” recent entrants have 1.7GHz+ and 2GB. A 3G model was released in November 2012.

Nexus 10: Made by Samsung and released in November 2012. Samsung’s 1.7GHz Exynos processor and Mali-T604 graphics processor make this a top performing tablet. It is available from about $450 on-line but again it is a slow seller.

Introducing the next generation Nexus tablet

The next Nexus will be made by Asus and its specifications be significantly better than the iPad Mini (which ranges in price from AU$369-$729). It will also compete with the plethora of cheap 7 and 8” clones that are coming into this space starting at under AU$100 (you can buy a basic 7” Android tablet from China for as low as A$50 and rebadge it). We expect release price to be around AU$150-199 but Google could adopt a “Zero margin policy” and it may be as low as AU$99 (in which case it will sell gazillions).

The processor will be a Qualcomm Snapdragon quad core, 2GB/32GB and it uses a new touch screen glass made by O-Film that is higher resolution (HD 1920x1080), thinner and as durable as other glass screens. Google stuck to the 7” format for bang for buck reasons – the component availability and cost is vastly cheaper than the 10” version.

Google only expect to sell six to eight million of these before moving to the next model but don’t forget that its intent is to have a reference product for Android - not to sell against other manufacturers.

Opinion

It amuses me that the internet is full of pundits saying “6 things I would like to see in the next Nexus”.

The purpose of a Nexus device is simple – it is a reference model (like Intel’s X86 reference designs) to give users a pure Android experience and to allow Google to monitor use and plan for the future. It is also to encourage app developers to develop more dedicated tablet, rather than smartphone, apps. Then of course it can stream advertisements to the device (where the real money is). Reminds me of the printer and ink story…

It is not to compete with other tablet manufacturers, not to sell squillions of them or to be leading edge – a good, safe, solid and reliable “Google quality” product that won’t damage their brand.

Google could spend more and put in things like external display capability, a ram expansion slot, bigger battery, wireless charging or a lighter unit (although it will be) – but it does not have to. That is the responsibility of other manufacturers to build a Nexus beating model and capture real market share.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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