How Android Raises the Experience Bar with Nexus 7

on July 24, 2012
Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a technology insider who has actually planned, developed, and launched products, I have always believed it was important to spend inordinate amount of time living with new and emerging technology products.  Only this way, can you get the “feel” of a product; where it is and where the category is headed.  With regards to Android tablets, I have lived with every version of operating system since inception on 10” and 7” tablets. For every Android tablet version, I added every single personal and business account and used it as I would expect general and advanced users to use it.  While I had experienced some very positive things about each Android tablet version, whenever I held it to the iPad, it just didn’t compare.  Either my preferred apps weren’t available, the content I wanted was missing, or it just didn’t “feel” right.  After using the Google Nexus 7 for a few days, I can say the experience is solid and a lot of fun, something I have never before said about an Android tablet.

Why Non-iPads didn’t Sell Well

We must first understand Google’s previous missteps with Android tablets to fully appreciate how far they have come with the Nexus 7.  While I penned this post a year ago outlining why Android tablets weren’t selling well, let me net it out for you.  Non-iPads haven’t sold well over the last year because:

  • tablets were sold with incomplete collections or no available movies, music, TV, books, and games
  • tablets were sold with minimal applications optimized for the platform
  • tablets were released with unusable features like LTE, SD cards, and USB ports
  • tablets didn’t “feel’ good as there were stutters and sputters
  • with all the issues above, most 10” tablets were sold at the same price as the iPad

Think about the horrible stories consumers who paid full price for an HP Touchpad, Motorola Xoom, or BlackBerry PlayBook tell their friends and colleagues today.  Given tablets are a new category and still a “considered” purchase, everything other than the iPad was considered risky, particularly for the non-techie consumer.

So why will the outcome for the Nexus 7 be any different? Well, it’s all about its integrated and holistic experience.

Nexus 7 is a Big Phone with Access to 600,000 Phone Apps

No one doubts that Google’s Android has been successful in smartphones.  They’ve been so good, in fact, that Android even eclipses iOS in market share.  This is why it’s so important to understand the implications of Google choosing the phone metaphor for the Nexus 7 as its it’s all about apps.  Even today, Android tablets apps are counted in the hundreds and iPad tablet apps are in the hundreds of thousands.  Apps and content are to tablets as roads are to a car, and consumers have access to at least 600,000 of these Android apps.  It’s not only about leveraging the phone app ecosystem as the HTC Flyer were phone-based 7” tablets and didn’t exactly set the world on fire in sales.

Nexus 7 Uses State of the Art Hardware and Software

I liked my Kindle Fire when I first got it, but in reality, I was most impressed with the price versus the iPad than the experience. Over time, my Kindle just sat in my drawer at home and I used my iPad 2 then the iPad 3.  I stopped using my Kindle because the web and mail experience were just so pathetically slow, and quite frankly I got tired of staring at pixels as I am very near-sighted.  I attribute this to the cheaper hardware, a much older Android 2.3, a slow browser for complex sites, and a lower resolution display.  I must reinforce, though, it was at less than half the price of the iPad 2 when it shipped and millions looked the other way as they were just happy to have a tablet.

The Nexus 7 uses state of the art hardware and software and at least for 6 months, buyers won’t have too many levels of remorse. The two main drivers of the experience are Android Jelly Bean and the NVIDIA’s Tegra 3. Jelly Bean, the latest Android OS, adds a tremendous amount of new features but, in short, enable:

  • Project Butter which doubles the UI speed to 60fps so Android finally feels responsive
  • fully customizable widgets at any size the user chooses
  • voice search and dictation that actually works, as Google moved much of the logic and dictionary back to the client and off of the cloud
  • fully customizable notifications, to see just what you want to see and very little of what you don’t want to see
  • Google Now, their first intelligent agent

The NVIDIA Tegra 3 SOC is just as impressive as it has:

  • quad core processor clocked at 1.3Ghz which speeds up tabbed browsing, background tasks, widgets, task switching, multitasking, installing apps, etc.
  • 5th battery saver core which operates in idle mode, which saves battery life
  • GeForce graphics with 12 cores clocked at 416MHz to play the highest-end Android games and HD video

When you add these features to the 7”, 1280×800 (216 PPI) display, you get a very solid experience that just “feels” good.

It’s All About the Experience

As the rest of the phone and tablet industry has painfully learned from Apple, it is about the delivering the holistic and integrated experience between software and hardware, not the ingredients that make it up.  The Nexus does deliver a good, holistic experience, and not just at a certain price point.  While what defines as “good experiences” are very personal, here are many of the experience points I believe will be universally appreciated:

  • light enough to comfortably hold in one hand and small enough to put in a coat, cargo pant pocket or purse
  • the UI “feels” fluid and very fast
  • cannot see any pixels which can distract from the visual experience, particularly when using in bed or with near-sighted users who hold the tablet near their face
  • the tabbed browsing is very fast, focuses well on desktop-sized sites, and bookmarks sync with desktop Chrome
  • the apps and content users want will be available, at least in most countries
  • email is full-featured and very fast, with no lag to delete, create, or linking to web sites
  • notifications are subtle, non-invasive, and speedy to resolve
  • live tiles are fully customizable and save time to see content, even eliminating the need in many cases to open an app like email or calendar
  • with multiple apps running in the background with data feeds updating, it still feels smooth

The holistic experience is greater than just the sum of its piece parts, a first for Android tablets.

Nexus 7 Significantly Raises the Android Tablet Experience

As Ben Bajarin pointed out here, usage models will differ between 7” and 10” tablets. One thing I must add is that like the Fire, the Nexus 7 will pull some potential sales away from the iPad if Apple does nothing.  This is an element that many fail to recognize.  The analogy I will use to show this is between sedans and minivans.  If minivans had never been introduced, sedans would have sold more.  In parallel, without a Nexus 7, Apple would sell more iPads, even if they aren’t the same exact usage models or price points.

Will Apple roll over and let Google and Android slow down its march toward digital dominance?  Probably not, as I do expect Apple to introduce a 7” tablet for many reasons and also as Apple laid out at WWDC, iOS 6 is very compelling, especially when connected with other Apple devices.  Today, the broad tech ecosystem and investors see Apple as invincible, understandable as they have plowed over many of the largest companies in tech.  If Google and Android start to gain credibility in the tablet space, what message will that send about invincibility?  Apple needs to stop Google in their tracks and remove all of the oxygen during the holidays to maintain its dominant status.

One thing for certain is that the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean significantly raise the bar for the Android tablet experience, something that has been absent for 18 months.