Google launched the Nexus 7 this week and it is an interesting product. The form factor has historically been dead on arrival for most products, but that was until the Kindle Fire sold massive numbers last holiday season. After that, sales slowed substantially for the device though and this makes the class appear better for gifts than it does for individual choices. But that may be a perception problem waiting for a fix because the 7-inch tablet has some strong advantages that could play for business uses as a form factor.
Yes, Google’s Android platform remains the most unsecure of any tablet currently shipping, but, with the right management software or vendor behind it, that could be mitigated. And the far more controlled, and secure, Kindle Fire is due for a refresh shortly, which could put it into employees’ hands as an even better offering.
Android is becoming the greatest strength of Google’s offering, but it also remains its greatest weakness. Unlike Apple, which is also behind on security, the Android platform isn’t as well curated and so the security exposure it has isn’t mitigated as it is with Apple, through tight application control and protections against jail breaking and side loading, which have become ever-larger potential security problems. Having said that, the latest version of the platform, Jelly Bean, has been sharply cleaned up and remains Linux at its heart, which means there are a lot of folks inside and outside of companies who either know how to program for it or can learn how very easily.
In short, if Google fully addressed the security problem, it could be a better platform for internal business applications than iOS is simply because Google is largely run by engineers and tends to provide tools that engineers find more compelling. While this can also result in more complex and less attractive products, which is and has been a problem for Android tablets in the past, the current version has been sharply cleaned up and since the product is priced at a fraction of the iPad’s price, users will be willing to take a little aggravation in order to get the latest shiny object.
If you do have a policy against Android, however, you may want to announce this policy again before employees buy this new tablet and get upset when you refuse to allow it on the corporate network. Although there has been some progress with security, that progress hasn’t, in my opinion, mitigated the reasons for banning the platform yet.
Historically, the 7-inch tablet been a difficult size to sell coming between the largest cell phone and the smallest successful tablet. However, it does still fit in many coat pockets, most purses and it is far lighter and cheaper to build than the 10-inch offerings. In a world that shifts tablets to productivity, it falls far short of the capability of a 10-inch offering, but could still be ideal for mobile forms, instructions/manuals, light Web research or mobile security camera access. In short, this could be a better solution for field technicians, inventory takers, forms work and in field education than the iPad given the lighter weight, lower cost and smaller size. It is simply easier to take along and less attractive to thieves than the iPad is.
Since I carry a Kindle Fire myself and often use it for speaker notes, to preview PowerPoint presentations and to read, I can, with some authority, say it is better for the written word than the iPad is in use. And that speaks directly to the size and weight of the device, which is far easier on the arms and more easily pocketed to free up your hands. I believe this form factor will pick up sharply when outdoor viewable transflective displays finally hit the market, like the one from Qualcomm’s Mirasol division.
This system is powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 3 platform, a 5-core (one for low power standby), graphics-heavy platform, which should be capable of running most any mobile application thrown at it. It is powerful enough to manipulate light CAD tools and may better lend itself to some kinds of in-field product displays and demonstrations as a result over the iPad. This is a lot of performance in a very small package.
There is little doubt that this tablet will be attractive to a large number of potential buyers; how large will likely depend on the marketing that goes around it and neither Asus nor Google are known for their “epic” marketing attempts. Still, the size, price point and performance could drive some impressive interest. The downside is that if you have a policy against Android, and many do, this could also create some impressive problems, so you may want to remind folks of that policy whether it is a full ban or just a conditional one on those using questionable side-loading practices.
In the end, this is actually a pretty impressive device and at $200, it's pretty cheap to bring into the shop and test. With the right management software and protection, you might find it a better alternative to the iPad at some future point, probably not at launch though. So I think the Nexus 7 could replace the iPad as the most popular device, but you may want that to be a later rather than sooner event in your shop depending on your security policy and user practices.