The inside scoop on the Nexus 7 tablet (Q&A)

A Google exec who helped lead the team developing the Nexus 7 tablet sat down with CNET to chat about the Nexus brand and what it means to Google and its partners.

SAN FRANCISCO - Patrick Brady, director of Android partner engineering, has two big launches to celebrate this month. The first is the birth of his daughter three weeks ago. And the second is the launch of his other baby -- the Google Nexus 7 tablet.

Patrick Brady, Director of Android Partner Engineering for Google. Google

At the Google I/O developer conference here this week, Google took the wraps off its first ever Google-branded tablet made by Asus. The new 7-inch tablet called the Nexus 7 runs the latest version of the Google Android operating system Android 4.1 Jelly Bean . It's loaded with some impressive specifications, including an HD screen, front-facing camera, and quad core processor. And it's available for the competitive price of $199.

Brady helped lead the team that developed the Nexus 7 tablet. CNET sat down with him here at Google I/O to get some more details about how the Nexus 7 came about and what Google's strategy is for building these Nexus-branded devices. Below is an edited excerpt from our conversation.

Why did Google decide to build a Google-branded tablet?

Brady: We looked at the ecosystem to see what product categories were about to explode next, and we looked at tablets, especially the smaller lower priced tablets. We didn't think this category of tablet was living up to its potential.

We wanted to build something inexpensive, but not cheap. It had to have fast processors and great screen resolution that our developers would want to use it. And we were looking to build a device that could showcase our digital content. We've build the biggest ebook store and we've got movies in Google Play. We've added TV and magazines. So we really wanted the perfect device to consume all of this and thought the 7-inch tablet was a good size.

It was also important for us to make the product light and portable. It's only 340 grams. We wanted people to be able to take it the coffee shop and feel comfortable reading a book or magazine on it. It's roughly the same size and weight as a paperback book. And the reason why paperbacks are the size and weight they are is because they're meant to be portable. You don't want to lug around a big hardcover book.

How long did it take you to pull the product together?

Brady: We started really working on it in January.

Wow, you turned it around pretty fast. I'm surprised you pulled it together in such a short period of time.

Brady: This industry moves fast, so we have to move fast, too. We can't spend a year developing hardware, because when it's done, it has year-old hardware. So we can't really afford to do that.

Who is the target customer for the Nexus 7?

Brady: I think everyone is. We thought a lot about how we'd design the software and hardware to fit a number of use cases. For instance, I think 10-inch tablets are too big for gaming and reading books. We wanted it to be portable. And we wanted it to be great for reading books and magazines as well as playing games and watching movies.

But we also thought it was important to make it powerful enough to do other things with it. That's why we added the quad core processor and we put Google Chrome on it. The Nexus devices are really reference devices so that developers can use them to innovate around the Google platform and ecosystem. So we need to build devices that are cutting edge. We want the best available hardware to test out our content and services.

It was also important to make sure the device was light and portable. And early on we knew we wanted to hit the $199 price point.

That really is an incredible price. How did you get the price tag so low? I heard someone say Google is making no profit on these devices. Is that true?

Brady: I can't comment on the business side of things. But I think in general people misinterpret our motivations for building the Nexus products. It's about building and driving the ecosystem.

Do you think your hardware partners get annoyed that you're building and selling a product with such razor thin profit margins? Doesn't that drive down the retail price of their products and make it harder for them to make money?

Brady: The market pressures are what they are, regardless of what we do. In technology things get smaller and cheaper over time. Sometimes you push envelope and that is what we have done here. But we don't see it as undercutting our partners.

Do you think your hardware partners feel threatened by the fact that Google is partnering with a hardware company and to make and sell its own branded products?

Brady: Back when we first launched the first Nexus One, I think partners were cautious. But then they realized we are not looking to do this completely on our own. We are partnering with companies to build the hardware with us. We have worked with Samsung and HTC on the Nexus handsets. And we've worked closely with Motorola on the Xoom tablet. And now we're working with Asus on the Nexus 7 tablet.

I think our partners now understand that Nexus products are really the intersection between the best hardware and software innovations that are available. That is why we look to partner with companies that are doing innovative things with their own products. And we challenge all our partners that want to work with us on a Nexus product to push the envelope.

We were very impressed with Samsung's curved glass and we've incorporated that into our Nexus handsets. And when Asus came to us and showed us what they could with tablets, we knew right away we wanted to work with them.

I don't think our partners are threatened. In fact, I think they enjoy it. Android is open source, so they understand that by developing these products we're working with silicon vendors to make sure all the technology works with the software. And we're enhancing the software. For example, you can see what we're doing with Project Butter to make the devices super responsive. Everything we develop will ultimately benefit everyone in the Android ecosystem.

I understand that Asus had some great technology you were interested in for the Galaxy 7, but why didn't Google choose Motorola? After all, Google owns Motorola now.

Brady: It was important for us when we acquired Motorola to stress to our partners that we weren't buying Motorola to get in the hardware business and compete directly with them. We acquired Motorola to help the ecosystem in terms of patents and intellectual property.

At first I think our partners weren't sure whether we really meant what we said about not giving Motorola preferential treatment. But they've seen us do another Nexus smartphone with Samsung and the Nexus 7 tablet with Asus, so I think they see that Motorola is not getting preferential treatment. It's all about the ecosystem.

I know the tablet market is still relatively young. But it's pretty clear that the Apple iPad is still outselling any of the Google Android tablets available today. Why haven't the existing crop of Google tablets taken off?

Brady, I think if you rewind things a bit and look at when we launched the G1 people said a lot of the same things. It wasn't outselling the iPhone, and they seemed disappointed. I think it takes a little while for sales to kick in. And it depends on the product. There are so many choices in terms of tablets. There are different sizes. Some are Wi-Fi only some have cellular connectivity. There is a wide range of price points.

But I also think there was some content missing early on. Now we're rounding that out with TV shows and magazines on Google Play, so there's a lot more to do with your tablet. I think the Nexus 7 is the best tablet that's available today. Still one size doesn't fit all. So I expect to see people buying all kinds of tablets, in all different sizes.

If you had to offer advice to someone deciding between a Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7, I'm sure you'd recommend the Nexus 7. But what features specifically do you think make it a winner over the Kindle Fire?

Brady: I'm not going to compare one device against the other. But I can tell you why I think the Nexus 7 is great. First, it's thin and light. It only weighs 340 grams. You probably don't realize how heavy some of these tablets can be.

The HD display on the Nexus 7 is also important. You may not appreciate the difference if you're watching standard-definition content. But when you do, watch HD content you'll know the difference.

Quad core processors are also important. You can see how Chrome works better and how the games are more responsive.

I'm also a big fan of the front-facing camera. It's great for Google+ hangouts. I don't think people will be jumping out of blimps and landing on the Moscone Center everyday while hanging out in Google +. But there are other good reasons to have the front facing camera.

My wife and I just had our first child a few weeks ago, and my parents live on the East coast. I didn't bring my laptop with me to the hospital, but I brought my Nexus 7. I took it into the recovery room with me, and we were able to introduce my family in Boston, Seattle and New York to my daughter. So I was glad we decided to do the front-facing camera.

 

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