Produced by Asus, the Nexus 7 is the first tablet that Google has labelled ‘made for Google Play’ – their own take on Apple’s iTunes and App stores. In other words, this is the first time an Android tablet has been built with the software in mind. It’s a huge step for Google, but they’re still following in the footsteps of Apple who’ve been doing this since day one.
I’ve spent just under a fortnight with the Nexus 7, and while it’s still no iPad (not by a long way) there’s some parts of it I love. Here’s five of them. Apple, if you’re listening, make some notes. You can’t learn a lot from an operating system who the late Steve Jobs vehemently believed ripped you off, but you can learn the following:
1. Voice search on the Nexus 7 is slick
Slicker than Siri, in fact. Not only was its success rate far better than what I’ve experienced with the iPhone 4S (although this dropped somewhat in noisier environments), it was insanely good at getting me relevant results without always defaulting to a web search. Now, there’s two things to note here; 1) This is partly down to Google being Google – Apple have never ventured into the world of web search (and probably never will) so a partnership could help this along massively. Who they’ll partner with, I have no idea, they’ve got you on this one, Apple. 2) This is less down to the device and more down to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, but the Nexus 7’s strategic microphone positioning probably does help somewhat. On top of this, it paves the way for Apple to dramatically improve Siri with an iOS update in the near future. Mr. Forstall, how long until you send that GM of iOS 6 out?
2. A 7-inch tablet could work for Apple
Without straying into the dangerously terrible territory occupied by none other than the Galaxy Note (eugh), it’s clear that the size of a 7-inch tablet does work. The dimensions of it make it perfect for reading books, the depth of the thing makes it easy to hold in one (reasonably-sized) hand, and the weight is reassurangly lofty yet feather-like, so much so that you confidently read in bed without ending up with a face full of tablet. Current (albeit strong) rumours aside, Apple could certainly make a 7-inch iPad work and it’d sell like hotcakes. Here’s the kicker though, Apple could easily go one better than Google on this by setting up an iOS framework and eco-system which allows devlopers to easily make apps for different screen resolutions without resorting to the awful scaled-up phone versions that plague the Google Play store. The Nexus 7’s pick of dedicated tablet apps is feeble at best and I know Apple could better this in a heartbeat.
3. The iOS App Store could still be better
Because the Nexus and the Google Play store are so intimately linked, viewing an app on the Google Play store on your computer will immediately tell you whether its compatible with your mobile device. Hitting the Install button next to its name will immediately push the download to it. Apple sort-of have this working with Automatic Downloads, but it’s never really intelligent enough to work out when apps shouldn’t be running on the iPad and only on the iPhone or vice versa. Likewise, the defauly is to always download to your Mac and then push it over to the iOS device. With the advent of iCloud, I reckon this process could be turned on its head. Apple could easily take a leaf out of Google’s book on this one, allowing users to push downloads straight to their devices from their Macs, avoiding an iTunes download altogether.
4. Home screen widgets can work
iPhones and iPod Touches aside (their screens are way to small to warrant a great big widget taking up half of their pixels), home screen widgets on tablets do work. That is, so long as they’re useful. App downloads from Google Play often provide a new set of widgets that could be added to the Nexus’ home screen, and while some of them are pretty cool or very useful, others are entirely useless. There’s certainly a gap in the App Store for home screen widgets to be a download, so long as Apple vets them with the same beady eye they use on app submissions. Don’t even think about putting them upon anything than the iPad though, oh no.
5. Apple are still number one
Regardless of how great or terrible the Nexus 7 is (depending on who you ask), Apple needn’t be worried about the recent additions to the tablet market. For all of its niceties, there’s still plenty of things that bug me about the Nexus. That subtle creaking sound that’s plagued a whole bunch of Nexus 7 owners has slowly become more and more prominent on my device and don’t even get me started on the packaging. These issues may be tiny on their own, but they all amount to death by a thousand cuts if Google continually let them slip through the net. Apple wouldn’t. That’s why they’re still number one.