Phil Nickinson

Let's talk tablets.

Specifically, let's talk Nexus tablets. Forget, for the moment, that as yet there's no such thing as a Nexus tablet. And I'm willing to bet that if Google actually does make its own tablet sometime in the coming months, it won't actually be called "Nexus" anything. (I'll go one further and opine that perhaps the Nexus line has run its course, but that's another column for another day. You folks feel free to steal that idea in the meantime.)

There's been growing talk of some sort of Google-produced tablet. Whispers go back many months, and in December 2011 an Italian newspaper quoted former Google CEO and current Chairman Eric Schmidt as saying "We in the next six months plan to market a tablet of the highest quality." We've seen other posts from analysts and Digitimes (which covers Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers and often dreams up unicorns as often as it does actual products) that seem to corroborate that Google's producing something.

And on Friday we've seen further rumors from The Verge and Android and Me (who's been peddling this thing for a while now) going back and forth on pricing -- $149 of $199, either of which would be perfectly conceivable for an aggressively priced, Google-backed tablet. And specs, well, specs are specs. Maybe it'll be quad-core. Maybe it'll be dual-core. Maybe it'll have a display so great it'll make the new iPad look like the jacked-up resolution on your grandmother's aging laptop.

None of that matters.

From time to time you'll hear us joke about hardware rumors, saying something like "Breaksclusive! Next-generation hardware rumored to be thinner/lighter/faster than current-generation hardware!" Part of that's just us breaking Wheaton's Law. But that doesn't make it any less true. And in the case of Android hardware over the past year, it's been ridiculously true. I have no idea how many tablets Samsung has announced in the past 12 months. I'm willing to bet there are a great many people at Samsung who couldn't tell you without having to look up the number of tablet models it's released. It really just comes down to this:

The last thing Google needs to do is make Just Another Android Tablet™.

Think about it. What good would a "Google Nexus Tablet" be? What would it bring to the tablet table that we haven't already had for a year now? Thinner? Faster? Lighter? Inevitable. (To a certain extent, anyway.) Stock experience? The Motorola XOOM's had that for a year now, and most other tablets keep relatively the same experience. Price? What's a $149 Just Another Android Tablet™ going to do in the consumer space that the $199 Kindle Fire hasn't done already? Google's got the cash to eat the cost, sure. But Amazon's got the distribution pipeline, and the head start.

(By the way: Don't call this unicorn a Kindle Fire killer unless it's capable of sneaking into people's homes and disintegrating the millions of Kindle Fires already sold and is able to negate Amazon's current retail stance.)

I said this a long while ago in regards to the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich — the key is going to be software. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich meant relative fresh start for Android. That said, it's been a troubled birth, as we still have a scant few devices with ICS, though that'll start changing fairly soon. (Though certainly not soon enough.) The tablet rumors we've been reading all share a common thread — they're thinking too small.

The next version of Android — by all (unsourced and uncreative) accounts it'll be called "Jelly Bean" — has to be more than just an iteration of a mobile operating system. You've undoubtedly heard the rumors of some sort of Google entertainment system. Or that Google Play is the start of something bigger. All this, I believe, is true. If there's one thing we know about Google, its that it has much more patience than those of us who don't create things for a living. (And certainly more patience than those of us who report on things for a living.) Google's in all this for the long haul.

Google TV was a disappointment. Android tablets have, on a macro level, been a failure to launch. Smartphones stand out, but there's certainly room for improvement. We know this. Google knows this. Word on the street is that we're all about to get a big lesson in WiDi, which in and of itself presents its own questions. (For most people, that'll be "What the hell is WiDi, and what can I do with it?")

We'll likely get some answers come the Google IO developer conference in June. And I've got a feeling everyone's going to be surprised.

The new iPad

We can't not​ talk about the new iPad, can we? I'm not buying one. At least I'm not planning on buying one. We've got an iPad 2 here (back in the ancient times when they gave sequels suffixes), and for right now, right this second, it's plenty good enough.

But that's not to say the new iPad's screen isn't gorgeous. Holy crap, is that thing ever gorgeous. Fast, too, and pushing that many pixels is no small matter.

It was fun reading what all the early reviews had to say about battery life and LTE. And it was even more fun to discover that the new iPad has exactly the same battery magic as the Android-powered Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX. Mainly, it's got a bigger battery

At the same time, that's also disappointing. Throwing a higher-capacity battery at the problem is one way of solving the LTE power suck. While the Droid RAZR MAXX managed to keep things in a relatively slim and sleek design (check out our full review, by the way), as did the new iPad, that's not going to be an option for every manufacturer.

Inside baseball ...

Props to This America Life for how it handled its retraction of Mike Daisey's Foxconn production monologue. If you haven't heard the follow-up show, it's an example of how to handle something like this. And, in my own little journalistic world, I'm proud of how they handled it.

It was a shame to see blogs scramble to pile on — adding what your own "Apple sources" said regarding the story was a bit sad to see. If you're in the publishing business, you don't add to someone else's seppuku. It's This American Life's story to fix. Let them fix it.

I still remember being in a newsroom in 2004 when USA Today published its investigation into reporter Jack Kelley's body of work (I worked for another paper own by USAT's publisher, Gannett), and a year earlier with the fraud perpetuated by Jayson Blair of the New York Times. My former paper's had to go through a couple instances in the past year. Everyone in the publishing business should be chilled to the bone. I get angry just thinking about it. (To say nothing of what my wife — also an editor — has to say about the matter.)

It doesn't matter if Daisey's work was presented as journalistic fact or a dramatic and embellished re-enactment. The end result was the same as that of Blair and Kelley. False is false, wrong is wrong.

But I also know that This American Life will weather this storm and come back better because of it.

The Samsung Galaxy S III

Still doesn't exist. But the din of the rumor mill is growing louder day by day. Saturday morning's "leak," I believe, is bullshit on a number of levels. First off, it's pretty clearly in the vein of the Galaxy S Wifi 4.2. Second is that folks seemed to have forgotten that PR firms do more than device launches. The Weber Shandwick logo could be for a marketing campaign. Or a launch of the Galaxy S Wifi 4.2. Or something else entirely Or it could all be (and likely is) one big troll. Whatever.

The latest "leak" at least looks more like a phone. And there's also absolutely no proof that it's real, either. And for someone to suggest that it'll have an MAO'd casing like the HTC One X is just a little convenient, don'tcha think?

Gawd, I love the silly season. We'll find out soon enough, then folks can crow "You heard it here first!" For what that's worth.

In one ear and out the other ...

  • Have we really gone a whole week without another new Samsung Galaxy Note commercial? Whom do I have to thank for that?
  • That said, HTC could stand to do more general marketing while we wait for the HTC One line. How cool is that micro arc oxidation video? HTC's always seemed to be more about provoking emotion than flat-out selling products, in direct contrast to, say, Samsung. Let's see some of that.
  • The new Prometheus trailer. Holy crap!
  • Two weeks till Game of Thrones is back!
  • I mentioned this on Twitter, but the number of times Seesmic crashes while scrolling is beyond ridiculous. I'm still looking for a full-time Twitter client. Maybe I'm too needy.
  • Speaking of which, where the hell is a tablet-optimized version of the Google+ app? How many times has Google told developers how easy it is to spruce up their apps for tablets?

That's it for this week. I'm going outside now.


Reader comments

From the Editor's Desk: We don't need Just Another Android Tablet™


Funny that the article brings up Game of Thrones yet doesn't see the obvious missing link in any Google tablet strategy: Exclusive, must see video content.

Game of Thrones first season is now available 6 clicks from the home screen on my Kindle Fire and probably within the same number of clicks on those shiny new iPads. If Google is to pry away any of that market, they have to provide the same kind of access to "must see" entertainment or more.

Games are okay but I don't see it being enough to sell a lot of tablets. You have to add in video, books and music. So far, Google has done pretty well in matching Amazon on the latter two. But not in video where the pickins' are slim. ( "Johnny English"? "Happy Feet Two"? ) For that, you're going to have to get agreements from the studios. I hope Google does it. Competition is good.

If Apple has 54% of the tablet market then what makes up the rest of the market? Is there some other phantom tablet type out there thats not Android besides the TouchPad? I think everyone is missing the real failure here and thats the failure to control the marketing.

Techically the Fire is an Android tablet. But looking at the last stats I saw from Forrester I believe it was most of the loss for Apple has gone to Android by far. The tech media simply wants to mask that as much as possible. They gloss over it and keep saying that Android isn't making any kind of inroads into the tablet market when the only place it isn't make inroads is into the tech media.

Double Post: Might as well use it for my real comment. I'd honestly just buy a Note instead of a tablet, which I'll do when I upgrade in May. Also I suggest Twicca, Phil. I'm also kind of needy about a twitter app, and this gets the job done, even if it's sort of ugly. Along with the official one. Am I the only one thats gonna watch The Walking Dead? :p

I can not wait for the walking dead! Last episode was such a twist and this one is going to get ruff real quick! I am also excited for game of thrones to start again!!!!

Agree mainstream marketing is key. 90% of tablet advertising in mainstream media is for the iPad. On that one metric of advertising % vs marketshare %, the iPad fails.

Mindshare has to be a priority for Google. Since the new iPad's introduction, have seen multiple TV newscasts about new iPad including the requisite Apple Store line (very small btw), and heard even more audio clips on top of the hour radio news vs. zero coverage at anytime for competing platforms.

The android tablet has an opportunity to invade the education system, which doesn't need LTE or that beautiful IPad screen.

I imagine the tablet in combination with the cellphone to be the solution for most of the worlds computing needs.

quite true. with apple's new highlight out there, android needs something that stands out otherwise will just sink amongst the ordinary tablet war

Quick thought on your brief opening tangent about Google ending the Nexus line. I don't think they will. Rather, I think that Google will, through their Motorola acquisition, continue the Nexus line. Android needs the Nexus phone as a benchmark phone. The Nexus phone serves as a way to say to the other OEMs, "This is your target this year, match or beat this." There is no reason to assume they wouldn't do the same with tablets too.

It has long been proven through tragic manufacturer UI's that there isn't a need for a Nexus line, so much as a need for some standardization. Yes, remain open and leave it to the consumer to customize their experience (launchers, custom roms, what have you) but as an operating system, I would like to less manufacturer input. Let them have input making great hardware, and leave Google to do what they do best. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" has never rung more true. They are really hitting their stride now, and who knows what the supposed "jelly bean" holds later this year. Frankly some of the only Android phones I like are the Nexus ones, and I know I don't stand alone... that us what their product should be. Take a book from apples page and realize that if you make one good product, it will sell... you don't need to make for every type of person, just the average.

I think it's very, very unlikely that Google will give Motorola preferential treatment by selecting them for the next Nexus phone. That would immediately put Samsung, HTC, et al, off-side and be the beginning of the end for Android.

Great article, so true. I am quite looking forward to the Google IO do conference, and when the long awaited devices actually emerge. Enough with the rumors already... as for Game of Thrones, YES!

Whether it is the "Nexus" tablet or not (really could care less) If I do not win one of those Primes) I am buying that new ASUS MeMo 370t. Awesome specs for an awesome price.

"What's a $149 Just Another Android Tablet™ going to do in the consumer space that the $199 Kindle Fire hasn't done already?"
The answer is simple - take new clients in the rest of the world. I now this is american website and most things are all around USA, but seriosly, Kindle Fire is one country tablet. There is still remaining 95% of population waiting to be reached.

so true, i was gonna get the fire, then, i was gonna get it for my girl. both times i changed my mind but the 2nd time was because i realised that amazon's app store was not available in my country but guess what, the play store is. i think it goes without saying that i will most likely get what ever tablet google makes. i hav an iconia a500 btw.

Google doesnt need another tablet. They dont need more improved specs. They dont even need better software. ICS is awesome. Google needs to do the one thing theyve simply refused to do.


Say what you will about Verizon, but when it came to marketing a phone to challenge the iphone, they arrived on the scene and launched a campaign that in my opinion brought Android OS to peoples mind.

Google refuses to truly stand behind Android as they should. Their content with allowing manufactorers and carriers do all the heavy lifting. And you know what? Thats fine. Its dandy.

As long as its working.

But when it comes to tablets there has been a clear disconnect with the consumers. Instead of the huge free for all thats been taking place, there has to be a concretrated effort to raise awareness for Googles OS on tablets.

For that matter, i could care less for anything Google says about doubling down on tablets. Remember that little thing they said regarding updates and carriers joining up to provide them in a timely fashion...yeah, exactly.

The average customer needs to know that what their buying is like the ipad , but better. The DROID DOES campaign did exactly that.

Have we not learned for decades or more that people will buy anything as long as its marketed correctly. Pet Rocks??? Sea Monkeys???

People want to be seen as having tye new hot item.

Apple has done exactly that. Until Google gets off its lazy butt regarding how to properly market, Android cant 'win'.

Superior hardware and software isnt enough. There are people buying ipads that have no idea how to use them. Its not much more simple to use than an Android tablet. Trust me, i own the ipad 2.

Again, this is just my thoughts. Im simply being critical because i really want to see Android succeed, and they can only do better if we remain hard on them to push them forward. They cant sit and rest on the accomplishments of the phone market. Thanks.

>"Specifically, let's talk Nexus tablets. Forget, for the moment, that as yet there's no such thing as a Nexus tablet."

Sorry Phil, but I disagree with you. The WiFi Xoom was, for all intents and purposes, a "Nexus Tablet", just without the marketing as such.

* It was *the* reference tablet for Gingerbread, as specified exactly by Google.
* It was the first and only tablet "endorsed" by Google.
* It was/is 100% stock Android, with no vendor meddling.
* It is (of course) a "Google Experience" device.
* It was/is fully unlockable and rootable, right from the start.
* It was the first device with Android 3.0.
* It was the first of two devices to get Android 4.0 (Transformer Prime is the other).

Exactly what does the word "Nexus" bring, on any device, that the above doesn't describe?

Keep reading.

"Stock experience? The Motorola XOOM's had that for a year now, and most other tablets keep relatively the same experience."

Or here's the Motorola Xoom review I wrote last year. I'm pretty well versed in it.

"No such thing as a Nexus tablet" means exactly that. There currently is no tablet in production or having been announced that carries the Nexus name.

Oh, I saw what you wrote. And do remember your article from last year, too. I wasn't saying that you were "wrong", just that I disagree that there was never a Nexus tablet, even though I do agree that no tablet ever had the actual NAME "Nexus" attached to it.

After all, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck.... it is probably a duck.

My question at the end is still a valid one- "Exactly what does the word "Nexus" bring, on any device, that the above doesn't describe?" Of course, that is also kinda what you were saying... what might a Nexus tablet be? But all I can do is base it on what I have seen "Nexus" be in the past... and that described the Xoom WiFi to a "T".

Agreed, we don't need "just another Android tablet" - if Google wants to differentiate, the tablet experience needs to be more robust than that. More things need to be available than just the play store, etc.

Why not have a robust enough experience to take it from an oversized phone to near pc levels? Give people a reason to leave their laptop at home because their tablet does it all. Because right now, it's close (for me) but it's not quite there yet.

I think Google will just make a cheap, good-quality tablet priced around the same level as the Kindle Fire, running ICS or Jelly Bean (which won't be a huge leap from ICS). The only thing faintly remarkable will be the price, and only because they'll help Asus shave $50 off the price to get it under $200. Crazy thinking, eh?

I agree we dont need a nexus tablet but we DO need Google to make sure that one tablet gets the newest version of Android (and any eligible updates) DIRECTLY from them (ie not the OEM, and not the carrier -- other than a brief check that the device isn't gonna damage the network).

As an original Xoom owner I am still waiting for the ICS update from Motorola. While I agree with what Jerry said about it in the last podcast I am sorry but at this juncture it's completely UNACCEPTABLE. Keep the same radios that are in it now if you have to but Motorola has already OK'd the Android portions of it, get it out to us ASAP and if you want to continue working on the radio code go ahead and push that out when you are ready with it.

I agree I am really pissed my xoom 4g has not received the ICS update. Its like what do you have to do?? the wifi version has had it for 2- 3 months..... Googles update process is piss poor and needs to be addressed and if it doesn't then its only going to get worse. I would root but everything I read I was not familiar with so I just didn't bother. But still I shouldn't even need to think about rooting in order to get this update especially when there is nothing to be modified except for radio's! Im frustrated better yet I am a frustrated Android Tablet Owner in which I am debating not going back. Ipad 3 is looking nicer and nicer..... Google Step Up

i don't know about you guys. but i'm losing interest in android tablets.
i used to want one when it was just ipad vs android...
BUT with Windows 8 tabs coming out in the future... i really don't think Android tabs can compete much vs. ipad & win tabs.

i would wanna do more real computing stuff on a Wintab than an android tab with no tablet optimized apps. or even go for an ipad although i don't like iOS.
Google need to figure something out REAL quick... or MS will take a big chunk out of the tablet market pie.

I agree the experience on an android tablet is not a good one at all. I want android to succeed so bad but with win 8 and the Ipad I think Android is in trouble. Something needs to be done and it should start with apps. This platform needs tablet apps and a seperate tablet market for us tablet users. Plus windows 8 looks very good on a tablet although I do not like the metro on the desktop but at least you can see that Microsoft is bringing everything together which I believe Google is trying to do but having a much harder time.

Android doesn't need a killer tablet because Google doesn't rely on a single device (per segment) the way Apple does.

As far as Google is concerned, Android is working exactly as designed.

I think instead of a tablet, they should work harder on the same version of android on all devices. So it doesn't take two years to get an update.

I'm inches away from buying a Lenovo thinkpad tablet. Why? Because it has the best pressure sensitive pen available. But from what I've seen the pen still isn't that great.

What I'd really like is a tablet that had almost wacom levels of pen proficiency.

I don't need 4G, actually what I need is something that tethers to my phone invisibly, while it's in my pocket. Realistically I am rarely without my phone by my side, unless I'm at home, and there I have wifi.

In terms of phone I'm in a blackberry world, soon to change to an android. I've been an apple user in the past, but would rather deal with the real and perceived dangers of using an open system with little retail level customer support. Apple makes products that I am envious of from a distance.

I don't anticipate using the pen input very often. Few apps in existence, and most apps don't really need pressure sensitive pen input. But I know that it will be invaluable for the properly designed app, and I still naturally think of sketching things quickly as a way to communicate. For example i thought of sketching out an idea of this tablet design, where the rounded end of the sony tablet is actually a base for storing/charging a pressure sensitive stylus.

I'm glad that android as an operating system has emphasized stylus compatibility. I think this alone makes it better for classrooms, and so many other specialized applications. There is a reason that the UPS person asks you to take a stylus and sign your name instead of telling you to do it with a finger. You can't teach kids handwriting by just using their finger, eventually you are going to need the power of a stylus. Eventually apple will eat crow and back away from that stupid statement about styluses (stylii?).

I'd like to see more innovation in hardware form factors in the tablet space. The big advantage of Android over iOS in the phone world is the number of choices. With tablets, ASUS seems to be the only company that is actually attempting to innovate, though I suppose the Galaxy Note and Sony Tablet P are baby steps in that direction.

What I'd like to see is a 7" tablet with a fixed physical keyboard under the screen, like the original Kindle, but with better keys and possibly a split keyboard. Imagine something like the Droid 4 keyboard, but scaled up and split for easy thumb-typing.

Right now, if you're holding a tablet and want to type anything, you either need to put it down on a surface or keep it propped awkwardly on your leg.