Just over a week after Microsoft unveiled its Surface tablet, another tech powerhouse took the leap. Google announced on June 27 that it would be elbowing in on the already crowded Android tablet market. During the kickoff to Google’s I/O developers’ conference in San Francisco, the company debuted the Nexus 7 tablet alongside the newest Android version (dubbed Jelly Bean), as well as a puzzling streaming media device, the Nexus Q.
The Nexus 7 has all the makings of a hit: It’s thin and extremely light (three-quarters of a pound — or half the weight of Apple‘s New iPad), has a seven-inch screen (just like Amazon‘s Kindle Fire, but in HD resolution), and packs serious processing muscle. Due to hit stores in mid-July at a mere $199, the Nexus 7 appears to have the identically priced Fire squarely in its sights. And it could easily take a nice chunk of sales from the sector leader, the iPad, which starts at $499.
Google also showed off its revamped cloud-based content store, Google Play. The company says Play will use the cloud to create a consistent experience across Android devices. One such device is the new Nexus Q, which mustered few cheers when announced. A softball-size Death Star-like orb, it streams content from (only) your Play account to a TV or stereo, and is controlled using other Android devices. Plenty of products — like Roku or Apple TV — already do similar or better for a third of its $300 tag. (Fun fact: In a departure from other devices, Google is saying the Q will be manufactured in the U.S., perhaps one reason for its hefty price.)
The question that lingers for us, though, and must give pause to Google’s partners is: What exactly compelled the software giant to dive deeper into hardware? ”In the end, users aren’t just buying a device but the entire ecosystem,” says Google’s VP of engineering for Android, Hiroshi Lockheimer, explaining the reasoning behind the company’s apparent move toward vertical integration. ”We’re trying to make sure that our ecosystem remains healthy.” With Google now offering a tightly woven combo of hardware, software, and content store, its plan for the future may seem familiar to Apple users. And why not? It’s working out just peachy for what’s now the world’s most valuable company.