Google took another bite at the hardware apple with the announcement Wednesday of the Nexus Seven tablet. The tablet, very wisely, is not looking to compete with Apple’s iPad – the indisputable leader — but rather the smaller, cheaper tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Outside of the iPad monolith, the Kindle Fire and Nook Color have been the most competitive entrants (albeit modestly) since Apple created the market in 2010.
Google’s Nexus Seven is a safe bet and, especially given Microsoft’s (sort of) foray into tablets, not entirely unexpected from the search and advertising giant.
And that’s why Google is smart to go after a part of the market where Apple doesn’t compete — the iPad is a “full-sized” device of 9.5 inches that starts at $500. There’s no reason to believe Apple is interested in making a 7-inch model, a size the late Steve Jobs derided. But both Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are 7-inch models that retail for $200, the same as Google’s Nexus Seven. By going after less-entrenched – but still huge! – companies, Google’s success doesn’t have to be measured against Apple’s. It can start small – literally – and see if it makes inroads against two companies still trying to make inroads themselves.
Avoiding direct competition with the iPad also lets Google avoid comparison with Apple’s significant app advantage. Apple benefits from a seemingly endless supply of third-party apps (actually 225,000), which makes the iPad a digital Swiss Army Knife, an all-purpose mobile tool that is very often a replacement for a laptop.
The other small, less dexterous tablets come from content companies that realized that building a tablet was just a good way to put up a better storefront in the digital age. Both the Kindle and the Nook Tablet are tied to reading, and buying, books. They are meant to be more robust alternatives to smaller, lighter, cheaper e-ink e-readers and as such are modest conceptual upsells. The Kindle also is a streaming platform for Amazon’s smallish but respectable film library. Most important, it is tied to a retail universe where most things Amazon sells are one click and two days away from arriving at your doorstep.