Google announces 7" tablet for £159

The Nexus 7 will take Amazon head-on in the cheap tablet market

At their I/O event yesterday evening, Google announced the Nexus 7, a 7-inch Android tablet which will retail in the UK from July for £159. 

The specs for the device bode well. It will come with 8GB or 16GB of storage (there's a £40 premium for the bigger one),and have a 1280 x 800 IPS display; that's the same type of display as the new iPad, but with a little over half the resolution. It also has a 1.2-megapixel, front-facing camera, though nothing on the back, which is good because you look like an idiot if you take photos with a tablet.

As part of Google's Nexus range, the tablet will be made by a third-party – in this case, Asus – but with Google taking full control of the software. When it has attempted to do this with its Android phones, it has been a double-edged sword for the company. On the one hand, the devices, the latest of which is Samsung's Nexus Galaxy, are the undisputed reference devices for the operating system, and have unrivalled access to new versions of Android, something other companies are notoriously reticent to provide. On the other hand, the control Google exercises means that the network carriers are loath to promote them; the Nexus One, Google's first foray into the hardware market, could only be bought through its online store.

With the Nexus 7, that downside should matter less. The tablet doesn't have any mobile connectivity, so carriers don't get involved, and Google has confirmed that they may sell it through conventional retain channels, although those stores are unlikely to be able to match the near-wholesale price that is being offered on the company's online store.

Although the iPad is the undisputed market leader against which most comparisons will be made, the Nexus 7 is really a move against Amazon. The form factor and price pits it in direct competition with the Kindle Fire, Amazon's Android-based tablet launched in the US in the run-up to Christmas, although not yet available here. When it launched, the Fire was widely panned for substandard hardware and buggy software, and although the latter was belatedly fixed by updates, many believe that a desire to rush the Kindle out for a Christmas release date meant that it wasn't quite finished.

If the Nexus 7 can live up to its tech specs and deliver a polished experience, it will have a clear run at Amazon's market. And make no mistake, that is where it is heading. Google is selling the Nexus as a reading device, claiming it has "the world's largest ebook collection", while adding magazines to its app store, and by selling it at a deeply discounted price, it is clear its business model is far more Amazon than Apple: get the tablet into homes, and then profit on media sold for it. That also explains the Nexus Q, announced at the same event, which is a glowing little sphere which allows you to stream media from Android devices – and only Android devices – to TV screens.

Of course, the margins on media are razor thin. Apple runs its iTunes store at break-even, and makes the majority of its profit from hardware; Amazon rarely breaks down how well its digital divisions are doing, but they can't be that much stronger. But Google has another way to make money from the same business: data.

Unlike Apple and Amazon, it is primarily an advertising company; if it can work out how to make ads on tablets as valuable as print ads, through targeting and data-mining, it could change both industries for good.

The Nexus 7

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories