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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.