The poorly kept secret that is the Google Nexus 7 tablet was just announced amid much developer applause and excitement. The device is everything it was rumored to be and the specs — something that only developers care about, of course — were impressive, including the 12 core GPU that will make the Nexus 7 a gaming haven. True, it's just another in a long line of tablets, albeit a $199 one that competes directly with Amazon's Kindle Fire and undercuts the secondary market for the iPad.
But as a competitor to the iPad, Nexus 7 isn't worth the digital ink I'm consuming right now.
But Google isn't just selling a device. Instead, the company wants to create a content platform strategy that ties together all of its ragtag content and app experiences into a single customer relationship. Because the power of the platform is the only power that will matter (see my recent post for more information on platform power). It's unfortunate that consumers barely know what Google Play is because it was originally called Android Market, but the shift to the Google Play name a few months back and the debut of a device that is, according to its designers, "made for Google Play," show that Google understands what will matter in the future. Not connections, not devices. But experiences. The newly announced Nexus 7, as a device, is from its inception subservient to the experiences — some of them truly awesome — that Google's Play platform can provide through it.
Plato used to define the human species as "featherless bipeds". This thought came to me this afternoon as I stood looking at the Venus de Milo in The Louvre (I'm in Paris for Forrester's I&O Forum) and pondered what Microsoft was about to unleash on all of us. Why, might you ask? Well, as the story goes, Diogenes (the guy who invented cynicism) plucked a chicken, brought it into Plato's Academy and declared: "Behold: I have brought you a man!" After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.
It struck me that that's pretty much what Microsoft and its OEM partners have been doing to us with tablets for a number of years now. "Behold! I have brought you a tablet!" But of course, now we know that a "tablet" is a device that we can use with nothing more than fingers with broad, flat nails.
But there's more. Microsoft's ability to respond in its modern day Peloponnesian War with Apple, has been hampered by three things:
The PC OEM vendors remain one (maybe two!) steps behind Apple in making well-differentiated hardware. To wit: Ultrabooks are just now beginning to match the MacBook Air, and no one else has a Retina Display in their lineups.
They haven't had an operating system for tablets without styli or mice, or that will run longer than a few hours away from a power outlet.
The upgrade process for Windows PCs is labor-intensive. IT organizations upgrade operating systems only when Microsoft forces them to, so end users are frustrated. Nearly half of organizations are still on Windows XP 11 years after its release.
Microsoft’s announcement that it is launching its own first-party hardware for a family of Windows tablets is welcome news: If you want a job done right, do it yourself. While Asus, Lenovo, Nokia, Samsung, and Toshiba are expected to launch their own Windows RT products this year, other major OEMs are notably absent from the list, either because they’re focused on x86 devices first or because they were locked out of the launch like HTC. Microsoft's Surface tablets will run on both chipsets.
Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a “Kinect camera,” Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few. While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune player, Xbox is a more recent example of resounding success. With the next generation of the Xbox “720” due out soon, Microsoft will have ample opportunity to bundle and promote the two products together and sell its tablets through the same consumer retail channels — although to start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential.
This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically integrated Apple on more even ground.