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Published 28 June 2012 12:31, Updated 29 June 2012 05:16
Attendees interact with a Nexus 7, Google’s first tablet PC, during Google I/O 2012 in San Francisco. Photo: Reuters
Google isn’t just flirting with consumer electronics anymore, it’s diving headlong into it.
With the kind of dramatics that are becoming a familiar fixture of technology industry confabs, Google unveiled a new tablet and a home entertainment device, and even hired sky divers to swoop down from a blimp to showcase futuristic, internet-connected eyeglasses.
Whereas the glasses are in the experimental phase, Google’s duo of new Nexus gadgets are ready for prime time, and the company is hoping they will land in the centre of consumers’ digital lives. The new tablet and entertainment unit are built to talk to each other, enabling Google customers to buy movies and music, play games and grab online information whether Web-surfing on the couch or on the move.
Google has long been a dominant player in internet search and online email, and has largely stayed away from manufacturing its own hardware products. But analysts say the company now wants to remake itself as a lifestyle and culture purveyor in order to compete with Apple and Amazon.com.
“It’s clear Google understands that the algorithmic approach to their business is not good enough for the next stage,” said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey, referring to Google’s mathematical formula for ranking search results. “They have to make people feel like it is a company that’s warm and inviting and lets you curl up with a book or watch TV.”
Google has a strong foothold for beginning that transformation, with nearly 400 million smartphones and tablets running its Android software around the globe, outselling Apple phones by nearly 3 to 1 in the first quarter of 2012.
Most of those sales, however, have come from Google allies such as Samsung and HTC. But with the devices unveiled on Thursday, as well as the finalisation of its purchase of phone maker Motorola Mobility in May, Google seems poised to take more control of the Android software it created.
Its new $US199 tablet, called the Nexus 7, is priced the same as Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, a device that debuted last year and stole a chunk of the tablet market from Apple’s dominant iPad. Although the Kindle Fire didn’t dethrone the $US500 iPad, analysts believe its initial success showed that consumers were eager for a less-expensive alternative, and it’s that niche that Google is gunning for.
With a high-resolution screen and a fast processor designed for video gaming and movie viewing, the Nexus 7 will have a newly enlarged lineup of magazines, TV shows and films for rent. It will begin shipping to customers next month.
Google also showed off a curious spherical gadget called the Nexus Q, which it dubbed a “social streaming device.” The $US300 Nexus Q, which would sit alongside the television, is meant to take on set-top boxes such as the Apple TV, Boxee and Roku. It will be able to access and play video and music purchased on a Google smartphone or tablet.
But Google has had abortive attempts to remake television before, most recently with its failed bid to sell Google TV boxes. It wasn’t clear to observers that the Nexus Q improved much on the $US99 Apple TV.
“The Q is an Apple TV made into a sphere,” McQuivey said.
The company received some applause in a demonstration of its Android phone software, which it called Jelly Bean. Among the software’s new features is a service that keeps track of what the smartphone user is doing at that moment and pipes up regularly with information that could help with the task at hand. Departing from your house could pop up traffic information and arriving at a restaurant could automatically yield a list of the best dishes.
But it was the sky-diving stunt, arranged by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, that managed to wow the crowd of software developers gathered for the event. The audience watched a set of images recorded and transmitted from the sky divers’ glasses as they leaped from a blimp hovering above San Francisco’s Moscone Center. The trick required Google to get special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, the mayor’s office and NASA.
Google’s specs – which it calls its Glass project – are a nascent technology that the company hopes will eventually enable people to access and record information about the world they’re seeing without a hand-held device. Brin told developers that they would soon be able to buy a pair of the prototype specs for $US1500 and begin creating applications for them. The glasses would be available to the general public “less than a year” after that, he said.
“This is a really new technology that we really want to get in the hands of passionate people as early as possible.”
Los Angeles Times