With the Google I/O developer conference taking place, it was a big week for Google, with a series of announcements touching on a number of their business initiatives. Maybe the biggest is the release of their Nexus 7 tablet device. Built by Taiwanese hardware manufacturer ASUS but sporting the latest version of the Android operating system (“Jelly Bean” or 4.1), the Nexus 7 is Google’s first serious foray into the tablet space, and in hardware generally. Apple’s dominance in the tablet space with the iPad remains essentially unchallenged right now, and the Nexus 7 is not likely to change that significantly, but it does demonstrate that Google, like Microsoft and Amazon, with their Surface and Kindle Fire tablets respectively, is not going to surrender the space just yet.
Practically speaking, it is Amazon and Barnes & Noble that will feel the commercial effects of the Nexus most immediately, as the new device is a clear step up from either the similarly sized Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet, with a much more powerful processor (an nVidia Tegra3 quad-core) and an improved display (IPS LCD at 1280×800), yet at a comparable price, $199. Anybody looking for a smaller and less expensive tablet than the current 9.7” iPad at $499 would have a hard time doing better than the Nexus 7, especially as the content offerings are likely going to be very comparable. (Competitive pressure in this space is strong, the original BN Nook Color can be had now for $119, and the Kobo Vox for $149.)
From a comics standpoint the Nexus 7 should be a strong contender in the non-iPad category, with comiXology, Marvel and DC apps available, not to mention Kindle and Nook apps as well. With the DC graphic novel exclusivity on the Kindle Fire ending, WATCHMEN, et al. should be available on all the major platforms again soon; in fact it appears that the exact 119 DC graphic novel titles that were exclusive to the Kindle Fire are now available on the Nook.
More generally speaking, the trend to more tablet diversity seems to be strengthening. According to industry reports, the Kindle Fire has done very well, with over 5 million sold since its introduction last fall. And there are rumors of more Kindle Fires in the pipeline at Amazon to come later this summer, including possibly larger sizes. While predicting what Apple is going to do seems to be its own industry, there are rumblings of a possible mini-iPad in the 7 inch range. I personally doubt it, considering how strongly Steve Jobs mocked the idea of smaller tablets, and it does not seem very Apple-like to chase a market others have developed, but one never knows.
A far stronger possibility, at least to my mind, is that there may be larger screen iPhones in the future. In the Android world the trend to bigger and bigger screens has been very strong, with almost all of the hot (and very well selling) Samsung and HTC phones sporting screens considerably larger than the iPhone standard 3.5 inch size. Not to mention the birth of the “phablet” category of devices, most famously in the case of the Samsung Galaxy Note with a 5.3 inch display, that is proving more popular than many early predictions, particularly in Asia.
Again, from a digital comics perspective, the growth in devices with screens that can display larger format graphics effectively has to be seen as a positive one. I would never have considered reading a traditionally formatted comic on my first smartphone, that had a relatively small (3.2 inch) screen, but I have no problem doing so on my current phone that sports a 4.52 inch display. Not to mention on a 7 inch screen like that on the Nexus 7. Obviously, opinions vary, and many comic readers have different tolerances for what they consider an acceptable size and format, but regardless of preference, there are likely to be devices that can fulfill it nicely in the future.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.