Google is trying its hand at the hardware business again. This time, the technology giant is moving into tablet territory.
Google just unveiled a new tablet computer called the Nexus 7 that seems aimed directly at Amazon's Kindle Fire. Google debuted the new tablet at its annual I/O conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.
Andy Rubin, senior vice president of Mobile and Digital Content at Google, described the Nexus 7 as "a powerful new tablet with a vibrant, 7-inch 1280x800 HD display." The Nexus 7 is powered by a Tegra 3 chipset, with a quad-core CPU and 12-core GPU. The tablet weighs 12 ounces, lighter than most tablets on the market. The Nexus 7 will retail at $199 and starts shipping in mid-July.
"Nexus 7 was built to bring you the best of Google in the palm of your hand," Rubin wrote in the official Google blog. "Hang out with up to 10 friends on Google+ using the front-facing camera, browse the Web blazingly fast with Chrome and, of course, crank through your e-mails with Gmail."
We caught up with Avi Greengart, who is attending the I/O event, to get his take on the Nexus 7. He told us Google is indeed aiming directly at the Kindle Fire.
"This is clearly a content-oriented tablet. When you turn it on the homepage has a My Library widget, so it's showing you the content on the device," Greengart said. "The only other widget is for a recommendation engine, so it has content discovery, clearly aiming at Amazon."
Greengart said Google was probably annoyed that the best-selling Android tablet -- the Kindle Fire -- doesn't use any Google services. Amazon has uncovered a market niche, he said, and Google needs to address that before Amazon puts a dent in its search or content revenues.
"Head to head with Kindle Fire first generation, there's no question that the Nexus 7 is better hardware. But I expect Amazon to come out with a new version before the holidays," Greengart said. "Amazon has much better distribution and a better brand for this sort of thing than Google does. One of the key elements of the Kindle Fire success is the Amazon Prime."
Jelly Bean Improvements
Google also announced the next iteration of its Android operating system: Jelly Bean. Rubin explained that Jelly Bean builds on top of Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.
"Notifications are now more dynamic: If you're late for a meeting or missed a call, you can e-mail or call directly from notifications," he said. "The keyboard is smarter and more accurate, and can predict your next word. And voice typing is faster, working even when you don't have a data connection."
Rubin said Google redesigned Jelly Bean from the ground up with a new user interface and faster, more natural Voice Search. Jelly Bean lets users type queries or ask Google a question. A la Siri, Google can speak back to users, delivering a precise answer, powered by the Knowledge Graph, if it knows one, in addition to a list of search results.
"Google is making mostly refinements with Jelly Bean, but some of them are significant in terms of the smoothness of the animation, the performance of the OS overall and expanding the capabilities of voice search to the point where it really is mimicking Apple's Siri," Greengart said.
"You can talk to it and it talks back to you and it sounds like you can do natural word search, which is another hallmark of Siri. In some ways it sounds like Google's enhanced search on Android is more universal than on Siri. Siri is being almost spooned data by Apple, whereas Google is applying the entire search engine."