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.

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The three big mistakes the government has made in its Brexit talks

Nicola Sturgeon fears that the UK has no negotiating position at all. It's worse than she thinks. 

It’s fair to say that the first meeting of the government’s Brexit ministers and the leaders of the devolved legislatures did not go well.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon told reporters outside that it had all been “deeply frustrating”, and that it was impossible for her to undermine the United Kingdom’s negotiating position as “I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist, and at the moment it doesn’t seem to me like there is a UK negotiating strategy”.

To which cynical observers might say: she would, wouldn’t she? It’s in Sturgeon’s interest to paint the Westminster government as clueless and operating in a way that puts Scotland’s interests at risk. Maybe so, but Carwyn Jones, her Welsh opposite number, tends to strike a more conciliatory figure at these events – he’s praised both George Osborne and David Cameron in the past.

So it’s hard not to be alarmed at his statement to the press that there is still “huge uncertainty” about what the British government’s negotiating position. Even Arlene Foster, the first minister in Northern Ireland, whose party, the DUP, is seen as an increasingly reliable ally for the Conservative government, could only really volunteer that “we’re in a negotiation and we will be in a negotiation and it will be complex”.

All of which makes Jeremy Corbyn’s one-liner in the Commons today that the government is pursuing neither hard Brexit nor soft Brexit but “chaotic Brexit” ring true.

It all adds to a growing suspicion that the government’s negotiating strategy might be, as Jacqui Smith once quipped of Ed Miliband’s policy review, something of “a pregnant panda – it's been a very long time in the making and no one's quite sure if there's anything in there anyway”.

That’s not the case – but the reality is not much more comforting. The government has long believed, as Philip Hammond put when being grilled by the House of Lords on the issue:

"There's an intrinsic tension here between democratic accountability of the government and effective negotiation with a third party. Our paramount objective must be to get a good deal for Britain. I am afraid will not be achieved by spelling out our negotiating strategy."

That was echoed by Theresa May in response to Corbyn’s claim that the government has no plan for Brexit:

 “We have a plan, which is not to give out details of the negotiation as they are being negotiated”

Are Hammond and May right? Well, sort of. There is an innate tension between democratic accountability and a good deal, of course. The more is known about what the government’s red lines in negotiations, the higher the price they will have to pay to protect. That’s why, sensibly, Hammond, both as Foreign Secretary during the dying days of David Cameron’s government, and now as Chancellor, has attempted to head off public commitments about the shape of the Brexit deal.

But – and it’s a big but – the government has already shown a great deal of its hand. May made three big reveals about the government’s Brexit strategy it in her conference speech: firstly, she started the clock ticking on when Britain will definitely leave the European Union, by saying she will activate Article 50 no later than 31 March 2017. Secondly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would control its own borders. And thirdly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

The first reveal means that there is no chance that any of 27 remaining nations of the European Union will break ranks and begin informal talks before Article 50 is triggered.

The second reveal makes it clear that Britain will leave the single market, because none of the four freedoms – of goods, services, capital or people – can be negotiated away, not least because of the fear of political contagion within the EU27, as an exit deal which allowed the United Kingdom to maintain the three other freedoms while giving up the fourth would cause increased pressure from Eurosceptics in western Europe.

And the third reveal makes it equally clear that Britain will leave the customs union as there is no way you can be part of a union if you do not wish to accept its legal arbiter.

So the government has already revealed its big priorities and has therefore jacked up the price, meaning that the arguments about not revealing the government’s hand is not as strong as it ideally would be.

The other problem, though, is this: Theresa May’s Brexit objectives cannot be met without a hard Brexit, with the only question the scale of the initial shock. As I’ve written before, there is a sense that the government might be able to “pay to play”, ie, in exchange for continuing to send money to Brussels and to member states, the United Kingdom could maintain a decent standard of access to the single market.

My impression is that the mood in Brussels now makes this very tricky. The tone coming out of Conservative party conference has left goodwill in short supply, meaning that a “pay to play” deal is unlikely. But the other problem is that, by leaving so much of its objectives in the dark, Theresa May is not really laying the groundwork for a situation where she can return to Britain with an exit deal where Britain pays large sums to the European Union for a worse deal than the one it has now. (By the way, that is very much the best case scenario for what she might come back with.) Silence may make for good negotiations in Brussels – but in terms of the negotiation that may follow swiftly after in Westminster, it has entirely the opposite effect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.