Who’s afraid of Google’s Nexus?

  • 28 June 2012
  • From the section Technology
  • comments

For a good while, if you wanted a tablet then the iPad was the only choice. Sure, there were plenty of Android devices, but none provided real competition. Now that's all changed. Some of the biggest beasts in technology - Microsoft, Amazon and now Google - believe they really can take on Apple and make headway.

And the product unveiled by Google at its developer conference certainly ups the stakes in this game. This morning I got a chance to have a look at the Nexus tablet, made for Google by Asus.

My first impression - and you can't tell too much in 10 minutes - is that it's a useful and capable device offering something that will be very familiar to owners of Android smartphones. Surfing the web, and in particular playing games should be pretty fast, thanks to the quad core processor.

The variety of apps you find for an iPad may not quite be there yet, but Google believes that access to a wide variety of books, films and music will make the Nexus an attractive choice for consumers.

What's really remarkable, however, is the price - which starts at £159. (How Google has managed to get it down to this price, and whether it's being subsidised to kickstart the tablet market are interesting questions.) Compare that to the cheapest iPad which is £329. Yes, that's a bigger and arguably more sophisticated device but you can see Google's device proving very attractive to large numbers of people who've been put off by the cost of tablets.

So who will be worried by the arrival of the Nexus? Apple may feel fairly relaxed about the device itself as it appears to be competing in a different market to the iPad. But it will be concerned about Google's move into content - films, music, books - which could make the whole Android ecosystem look more attractive than the iWorld of Apple.

Microsoft will be concerned that Google has got to the market months before the Surface devices which it unveiled last week. But again, the company will feel that it's targeting a different kind of markets, the enterprise customers who've fought shy of tablets so far.

At one small business this week - my excellent local optician - I learned that the owner plans to replace all his PCs with Surface tablets when they come out. Why not go straight to iPads, I wondered - only to learn that just about every ophthalmic application was Windows-based.

But it is Amazon that may be examining this new rival with some concern. The Kindle Fire - a very similar touchscreen tablet but without a quadcore processor - sells for roughly the same price in the United States as the Nexus, and has proved pretty popular. But more than six months after its release it still hasn't reached markets outside the US and Canada, despite great interest from consumers. In the UK, where the Nexus will be available right away, it seems likely that anyone who wanted a Kindle Fire will now give their money to Google instead.

Still, the real answer to who will worry about the Nexus may be nobody. Just two years after the arrival of the iPad the computing world has decided that we are moving away from the keyboard and mouse and into the new world of touchscreen, voice-activated devices. If that is true, there should be room for everybody.