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Google changes gears with branded products

Google Inc. (GOOG) has reigned supreme over the smartphone market in unit sales, even as it has struggled with profitability and intellectual property concerns.

But the taste of success in the mobile space has left Google hungry.  Amid mostly weak tablet efforts by OEMs, Google has opted for a bold strategy that is highly analogous to Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFTapproach with the Surface products -- offering a compelling array of branded options, while continuing to offer OEMs opportunity to produce their own branded product by offering licensing opportunities.

Last Monday, the Nexus family grew into a product trio -- a phone (4-inches), a mid-size tablet (7-inches), and a full-size tablet (10-inches).

I. The Product

Here's a quick recap of the changes/new stuff:

Nexus 4

OEM partner: LG Electronics (KSC:066570)

Screen: 4.7-inch True HD IPS PLUS (1280x768 pixels)
CPU: 1.5 GHz quad-core SnapDragon 4 by Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM)
GPU: Adreno 320
Storage: 8/16 GB (no microSD!)
Battery: 2,100 mAh
Cameras: 8MP, AF, LED flash (rear); 1.3MP (front): 
Connectivity: HSPA+ (no LTE), 802.11 b/g/n
Extras: NFC, wireless charging, BlueTooth 4.0 
OS: Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean v2)

Nexus 7
OEM partner: ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357)

Screen: 7-inch Asus TruVivid (1280x800 pixels)
CPU: 1.3 GHz quad-core Tegra 3 by NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA)
GPU: 416 MHz 12-core GeForce ULP (NVIDIA)
Storage: 16 GB ($199) or 32 GB ($249) (no microSD!)
Battery: 4,325 mAh
Cameras: 1.2MP (front): 
Connectivity: HSPA+ (no LTE) for +$50, 802.11 b/g/n, BlueTooth 3.0 
Extras: NFC
OS: Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean v1), upgrade to 4.2 this month

Nexus 10
OEM partner: Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930)

Screen: 10.1-inch PLS-backlit display (2560x1600 pixels)
CPU: 1.7 GHz dual-core Cortex-A15
GPU: Mali T-604 (ARM Holdings plc (LON:ARM)
Storage: 16 GB ($399) or 32 GB ($499) (no microSD!)
Battery: 9,000 mAh
Cameras: 5MP, AF, flash (rear)/1.9MP (front): 
Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n, BlueTooth 3.0 
Extras: NFC
OS: Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean v2)

II. The Strategy

One week later, Google's John Lagerling, director of business development for Android, participated in a special Q&A session with The New York Times discussing the motivation for the expanded Nexus push.

He emphasizes the need for Android to get more aggressive in tablet pricing, calling the Nexus 7/10 price points "pretty revolutionary."  Pricing was a key driver of Android smartphone adoption, and higher prices on Android tablets have been a key adoption deterrent, so this makes sense.

John Lagerling
John Lagerling, Android business director [Image Source: Pocket]

He comments, "We did really well with the Nexus 7, I feel, because nobody really pushed the envelope with seven-inch in terms of price and performance. It really proved that category. We felt the 10-inch category was overpriced and underpowered, and we wanted to see what we could do for that from our perspective."

When it comes to subsidiary Motorola, he somewhat contradicts the past commentary of other Google brass who said the acquisition wasn't just about patents, by commenting, "The way I understand it is, it’s mostly about the patents."

Asked about why Motorola was not included in this round of the Nexus lineup, he says that they have the chance to bid on each product just like the other Android partners without a featured product.  When it comes to choosing OEMs he says the variety is "not so much fairness as it is to sort of work with partners who happen to be in good “phase match” with us in what we’re trying to do."

Nexus family

After a frustrating stall in the tablet market, Google, much like Microsoft, is finally seeing fresh life.  Not content to take a second-seat to Apple, Inc. (AAPL) and second-place, Inc. (AMZN), Google is finally offering hot products at alluring prices.

Mr. Lagerling summarizes, "I'll admit we’re finally much more closer to our actual vision in the past year than we have ever been."

One key issue not touched upon in the discussion is a glaring weakness of the Android market when it comes to super-HD tablets like the Nexus 10 -- a lack of super-HD-resolution apps (Apple's own selection of "Retina" iPad apps, while far from the lower resolution selection, is industry leading).  Apps, of course, follow a Field of Dreams "if you build it, they will come" sort of trend, but for early adopters a smaller catalog may create headaches for Nexus 10 owners.

Sources: The NYT, Google

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RE: Great summation
By Solandri on 11/5/2012 12:35:49 PM , Rating: 2
I can kinda see Rubin's point. Developers shouldn't expect a fixed resolution nor screen size. Apple was the biggest defender of the fixed size/resolution appraoch. The iPhone was 3.5" and 480x360, the iPad 9.7" and 1024x768, and they never strayed from these specs while Android devices experimented with all sorts of different screen sizes and resolutions. When Apple finally did bump resolution, they tried to simplify life for developers by just doubling resolution on their retina displays.

But even Apple have now abandoned that approach. The iPhone 5 sports a 16:9 1136x640 resolution, and the iPad Mini has the same resolution as the iPad 2 but on a smaller screen.

The bottom line is, developers shouldn't be developing for a specific screen size or resolution. They should be designing their apps from the outset to operate at multiple resolutions and PPI. Your phone app shouldn't be a phone app. It should be an app whose UI scales so it'll work on both a phone or a tablet, on low PPI devices or high PPI devices.

I dunno about iOS, but Android has an internal setting where the device can specify its resolution and PPI. Rubin is telling developers instead of targeting a specific size and resolution for your app, you should make your app read those two measurements and scale appropriately. It's more work for the developer up-front, but will make life much easier for them afterwards.

RE: Great summation
By retrospooty on 11/5/2012 12:52:49 PM , Rating: 2
Yup, and with the vast sales gap, the ones that aren't, better get started on it.

Apple took the easy path just like they did with Mac's. One platform, one ship per, one vendor (themselves) a very small # of models and very little variation between generations. The PC and Androids path is more difficult. Many vendors, many chipsets, many screen res options and so on and so on.

From a high level view, the Apple cloised model looks good and it does have advantages, but the more time goes by the more the difficult route wins the game... In the end options beats lack of options. See Mac v PC for historical reference.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/5/2012 10:01:29 PM , Rating: 1
very little variation between generations.

I'd call a doubling in performance every year while maintaining a performance lead over Android hardware, all without compromising size or battery life, is pretty substantial.

You're also looking at things backwards, the important thing isn't supporting multiple models, it is supporting developers. Windows succeeded partly because it is and continues to be one of the best platforms for developers to work on.

When developers can create great software and thrive on a platform all while making money, the cycle of great apps will continue. This is happening with iOS and the quality gap continues to be substantial. When OS/hardware/marketplace fragmentation occur on a sub-optimally performing platform based on Java, all that can really make up for things is sheer volume of customers.

Both can certainly co-exist, but there's no question that one is supported by a superior ecosystem while the other is supported by more users. Its a shame that a platform that combines the best aspects of iOS and Android, Windows Phone, seems to be relegated to a sideshow because it just can't gain any traction with customers.

RE: Great summation
By Samus on 11/5/2012 11:13:33 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is Android/iOS/WP8 dev's can't design their apps to be multi-res because of the size restrictions. If they were to include a collection of icons/symbols/etc that had most of the common resolutions in them, the apps would be huge. If they were to implement code for hardware scaling of application graphics, the apps would still be huge (we're talking a lot of code) and the quality might be unpredictable.

Windows RT has it made because in Windows 8, the app size restriction isn virtually non-existant; the only resolution requirement is for the tile animations/data. The app itself scales to whatever the resolution is natively.

Where all of this is simplified is gaming. Games scale to any resolution pretty well (the "mis"-scaling isn't as noticable as with a graphics or data entry app.)

Either way, resolutions need to be standardized for other reasons than just apps.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/6/2012 4:06:43 PM , Rating: 1
I feel like many people here are missing the point.

This is less about resolution and more about optimizing the UI for a larger display size. This is about UI layout first and foremost.

RE: Great summation
By retrospooty on 11/6/2012 7:08:17 AM , Rating: 2
"I'd call a doubling in performance every year while maintaining a performance lead over Android hardware, all without compromising size or battery life, is pretty substantial."

How is that a substantial change when talking about app and OS support? Its good, but not in that discussion. In fact it changes almost zero with regards to apps and OS support.

"You're also looking at things backwards, the important thing isn't supporting multiple models, it is supporting developers."

Imprtant to who? Not to me. I want better phones/tablets with better features, better screens and more versatility. Improving Androids app support to step up slightly to match IOS app support is very VERY low on most people lists.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/6/2012 3:49:19 PM , Rating: 2
Based on how much developers make from tablet applications and the fact that tablets are app machines, I'd say that customers care about that a lot.

Numbers don't lie.

It is a more than fair tradeoff for the "features" in other tablets like SD card slots. It isn't a tradeoff in any case, you still have by far the best and fastest hardware in the iPad.

RE: Great summation
By retrospooty on 11/6/2012 5:37:13 PM , Rating: 2
Actually #'s do lie when presented in a false context. I think you are living in 2011. Stop acting like apps is all vs none. Its not a huge difference and that difference is shrinking.

With Android now outselling IOS 5 to 1 and growing fast at some point soon its break even. When will you accept that apps are pretty close to as lucrative as IOS. when it hits 7 to 1? 10 to 1? When?

RE: Great summation
By retrospooty on 11/6/2012 5:45:29 PM , Rating: 2
LOL, btw, I love the pic in that article. Totally reminds me of several people I've known.

Anyhow, study that graph carefully and do some estimations on your own.

IOS vs Android is approaching the same point where PC vs. Mac did years ago when PC's growth exploded. The difference here being that on phones, Apple had a bigger head start and on tablets even bigger still, and they have plenty money in the bank... But the wave is coming. As a developer you should stay on top of it and surf, not get left behind it paddling back to shore.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/6/2012 6:54:22 PM , Rating: 2
We'll see how close it gets next year. The discrepancy is still there in a huge way based on people I know who have been doing mobile apps for years and have been on the top charts of multiple platforms.

The other problem is that there is still a huge gap in the quality of tablet apps, which again I think can be remedied if there was a greater emphasis put on optimizing towards specific platforms rather than halfassing it with a generalized one. I don't like consolized PC ports of games and I like smartphone apps on my tablets even less.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/6/2012 7:13:50 PM , Rating: 2
Another important thing to note is that the link doesn't specify tablet apps. This thread has been all about optimizing apps for tablets and how Google should IMHO encourage developers to do a better job with their tablet apps rather than simply upscaling phone apps.

If developers target Android tablets, it helps sell more Android tablets to customers (right now the only motivator is that they're cheap), which means that it will continue to get better apps, and so on.

Everyone here seems to be arguing against something that I think would be beneficial to the platform. I don't understand why Android fans are angrily putting down a method that would obviously help their platform get up to parity with iOS on the tablet. This kneejerk angry response to constructive criticism from some people here is so strange.

RE: Great summation
By retrospooty on 11/6/2012 8:52:32 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with you about tablet apps, good Google needs to step it up. with that said I don't think it's as bad as you think it is.advantage to Apple yes, but not a big 1 , and it's not just SD cards that give you an advantage on the Android side. aside from just more options to suit your needs, and better pricing, you have to start counting the OS. Jelly bean is just miles ahead of IOS at this point and is developing and innovating at a way greater pace than Apple has for the past 5 years. IOS is stagnating while Android is sprinting.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/6/2012 7:18:08 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks for the link btw. :) It shows how sheer numbers can overcome the negatives of OS/hardware/marketplace fragmentation and rampant piracy. It is also interesting how many more customers Android will require to turn up as much profit as does supporting iOS. At the rate it is growing I'm sure it'll get there.

RE: Great summation
By someguy123 on 11/6/2012 10:13:46 PM , Rating: 2
I have nothing against android but that graph makes no sense. The source is tech thoughts, who source app annie claiming to extrapolate based on growth, yet according to app annie the growth for both platforms are the same at 14%, so over the course of a year the percentage share would still be the same. That graph contradicts its own source.

RE: Great summation
By TakinYourPoints on 11/5/2012 9:47:31 PM , Rating: 2
There is such a discrepancy between phone and tablet screen sizes that this doesn't really work. There is a massive difference in UI optimization and layout between the two. Something like Alien Blue, Reeder, iPhoto, or Photoshop have completely different layouts depending on whether you're on a phone or on a tablet.

Developers are already hard pressed to match the quality of their Android apps to what they release on iOS. Polishing the tablet layout with multiple panes, etc, really isn't worth it for them.

What would help is if there was a better mandate from the top in terms of optimizing UIs for tablet. Instead Rubin is pushing for a strategy that has so far failed.

Instead you're going to end up with good Android tablet hardware like what Google is showing, but with no apps. If all someone wants to do is web browse (on 16:9, ugh) then I guess that's ok, but tablets are app machines. Without apps made for tablets then they will continue to sell only in the low end.

With developers targeting apps instead of half-assing it with upscaled (and already inferior) phone versions the Nexus tablets could be so much more.

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