Posted by James McQuivey on June 27, 2012
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.
And that's the right strategy for putting this tablet into the market. It's Amazon's strategy with the Kindle Fire, and it's actually the same strategy Apple has used to ensure that its iPad is not only popular but essential for many consumers. The tight integration of content experiences — music, video, games, apps — into the device is the new de facto model for selling consumer electronics of all shapes and sizes. One that keeps companies like Panasonic and even Sony slightly left out in the cold.
But wait, don't order yet! Because before the Nexus 7 buzz could settle in, Google announced something even more far-reaching and even more content-centric: The Nexus Q. Don't try to describe it as a computer, a tablet, or a phone, because none of those descriptions will work. And it appears by the spherical design that Google doesn't want you to apply any of those descriptors, instead hoping to convince you that this device is totally new, or "the third wave of consumer electronics," to use Google's language. Steve Jobs would have called it the post-PC era, but they can't quote Mr. Jobs, of course.
With the dual announcement, Google is setting its sights on content and content experiences, allowing you to plug the Nexus Q into the "best TV in your home" and letting you control it with whatever Android device you have handy, including the Nexus 7. This is the same kind of multidevice nirvana Microsoft aimed for recently with its SmartGlass app for the Xbox 360 user and is, in fact, exactly what Apple was trying to do with the last iteration of Apple TV.
And there's the problem specifically with Nexus Q. True, Google is showing that it understands the future of devices is dependent on a content platform, much of it delivered from the cloud to whatever screen is handy, but in the end, the Nexus Q seems like a very expensive Apple TV! Sure, it can play music, it can play video, all on the TV screen you already hold dear! We call that Apple TV where I'm from, and even though Nexus Q goes way beyond it, it will be very hard for the company to convince anyone that a little bit of social viewing and distributed control of the device justify the $299 price tag Google is asking. Especially when Apple had to bring its Apple TV product down to $99 to get it moving.
Is the Q just Google TV 3.0? If so, the fact that Google has a snazzy new tablet and an elaborate Google Play content strategy won't save Nexus Q from obscurity even if Play goes on to matter. So while Apple breathes a sigh of relief that Google didn't just solve the TV problem, Google has to figure out how to get developers to mess with this sphere so that they create some new experiences that people didn't realize a TV accessory was capable of. And Google has to convince TV makers like LG and Samsung that they should put the Q's guts into a line of TVs posthaste.
That's a lot of work ahead of Google, and it's likely to distract Google from the very thing it knows it has to do, which is to make Google Play a real customer relationship that people spend money through and value the way Amazon customers value Prime and Apple customers value iTunes.