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The Nexus 7 and The Cloud Commit Conundrum: Google Wins (For Now)

By - July 13, 2012

Google was kind enough to send me a Nexus 7 tablet to play with last month, and over the past week or so I’ve had the chance to actually put it to use. Even though I own an iPad, I have serious reservations about the constraints of Apple’s iOS ecosystem (more on that below), so I was eager to see how Google’s alternative performed.

Now, before I get into details, I want to state what I think really matters here: The Nexus device – and others like it – represent a play for something extremely valuable: a hard-wired digital portal to our hearts, minds, and wallets. As I’ve written elsewhere, there are five major companies deeply engaged in this play – Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. All of these companies want us to commit to their services as the basis of our digital lives – how we consume media and entertainment, how we manage our work and personal lives, where we store our most important information (including our money), and of course, how we declare who we are and what we believe (our identity). The more these companies can get us to upload our music, videos, photos, identities, purchases, browsing behaviors, etc. etc. etc. into their nebulae, the more they’ve locked us into a lifetime relationship of revenue and profit.

Put in that frame, your choice of tablet or phone is about much more than feeds and speeds or features and prices (for all that, see this Engadget review). It becomes a choice about what kind of a company you want as a partner in your digital life. Will the company let you export your data easily to other services? Will it be transparent about how your data is used? Will it have the guts to stand up to bad actors, whether they be governments or other corporations? Will the company create dashboards where you can see, edit, delete, and contest how your data is displayed?

In short, will the company be a good partner in your digital life? If you’re going to upload your digital doppelganger into this company’s servers, can you trust it? I call this choice the “Cloud Commit Conundrum,” and I’ll be writing about it more in the coming months.

For now, I’ll just say this: while Google is far from perfect on any number of fronts, it comes far closer than any other in embracing a philosophy that I feel I can trust when it comes to the cloud commitment conundrum. To wit: The Google Transparency Report. Further: The Data Liberation Front. And further, the open (and yes, messy) nature of Android. Lastly, I believe Google’s founding DNA is as a product of the open web, and its founders have a deep commitment to that idea, even as we enter a rather cloudy era of closed, non-generative systems and walled gardens.

But up till now, Google hadn’t really “wowed” me with a product that I felt I could really get behind.

No more. I’m not a hardcore tablet user, but I might become one thanks to this device. I found the iPad to be too large and heavy to use comfortably in casual situations (like reading in bed, for example), and too limited to use as a replacement for my laptop. By comparison, the Nexus 7 is just the right size for use anywhere – it’s very similar in size to my daughter’s Kindle Fire, but lighter.

But what I like about the Nexus is how good it is for all those lightweight web-connected tasks I want to execute on the run. I find web browsing, checking multiple email accounts, and Google mapping rather tiresome on an iPhone – the iPhone’s native interface, for all its supposed perfection, has all kinds of wrong baked in – and the screen is just far too small. The Nexus 7 is about the same size as a Moleskin notebook, and  it just *feels* like the right form factor for doing all those things you want to do on a smart phone, but can’t quite do in the right way.  It’s not too big, and not too small – just right.

It’s also very responsive, and has plentiful access to apps and content (Google is a bit aggressive in how it promotes its Play store – but it’s very easy to remove the Play clutter and customize your own experience). So far, it doesn’t have cellular service, but I expect that will come soon. The wifi works great, and I barely missed a beat this week in New York – seems there was open wifi just about anywhere I went.

I think Google has a winner on its hands here – and the $200 price point makes the Nexus a clear competitor to not only Amazon’s more limited $200 Fire, but to the more expensive and clunkier iPad.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict Apple will ship a 7-inch version of its iPad soon, at a similar price point. If it does, I’m sure it’ll be a strong competitor to the Nexus 7. But for me, the tiebreaker comes down to the cloud commit conundrum. And the winner there, so far anyway, is clearly Google.

Anyone in the market for a slightly used iPad 2?

(cloud image via Shutterstock)

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  • http://www.innovationxbook.com Adam Richardson

    I’m gradually migrating away from the Apple ecosystem also, and in fact recently switched from an iPhone to an HTC One X for many of the same reasons you give. I wrote about that experience here http://www.richardsona.com/main/2012/6/19/switching-from-iphone-to-android.html , and liken the ecosystem battle to the Cold War – people had to pick a side, and with it comes a bunch of ideology, and then you are kind of locked in. I don’t have a tablet at the moment; the Fire sounded promising but is probably not good enough, while the Nexus 7 could be just the sweet spot of capability, size and price to make me jump.

    • Anonymous

      Let me know if you do. I’ll post periodic updates as I learn more about using the Nexus on Twitter or here….

      • Anonymous

         Please. post updated, it’s incredibly interesting

  • Callie O Farrell

    Interested in so far as the walled garden syndrome seems to be the way that the big players would like to impose on users.

    As opposed to what users actually want.

    I love the concept of the open web – and am interested in following:

    html5 and the implication for mobile apps

    • Anonymous

      As am I – any readers who know of smart resources on this topic I’d love to hear from….

  • Furr B.

    The iTMS walled garden and the “all roads pass through iTunes” approach are the main reasons why I avoid Apple’s iP* devices. (I can’t speak for Mac OS, but iTunes has never been a pleasant experience when I’ve given it a try under Windows.)

    There are aspects of the Nexus 7 I don’t care for (the lack of a microSDHC slot primarily, and the lack of microHDMI and/or MHL capability additionally), but I’m starting to think I can work around those problems considering the price point for the 16GB version is what I paid for a Nook Color a few years ago – and the N7 has a vastly more powerful processor, significantly more ram and a much better display.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, from what I can tell, the speed of this device is on par with anything else I’ve tried (or better).

      • atatata

        Many people complaint about screen brightness, broken screen and broken speakers. (just google “nexus 7 brightness defect” or “nexus 7 screen defect”)

        • johnbattelle

          Bummer, hope they fix that. Have not had that issue (yet)

  • http://abdallahalhakim.tumblr.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

    I was set on getting an iPad until the nexus 7 came out. The 7″ size is starting to make a lot of sense to me and I can easily visualize how it fits into my lifestyle versus a bigger iPad. The other debate in my head, as you elegantly pointed out, is what system to use. I have a mac laptop which I completely love and will not go back to windows/PC. I use android phone but am at the stage of needing a new phone soon. Initially, I thought that getting a nexus phone would make sense if I also buy a nexus7 tablet. However, there has been a couple of apps released this week that I wanted and they are only available on iPhone. So, I am thinking that perhaps my best personal strategy would be to have an iPhone (which will allow me to play with latest apps) and have Nexus7 tablet that would complement my mobile digital profile. I thought to share this information in case anyone else is having the same issues – I am open for suggestions

    • Anonymous

      I think the big issue for Google is to integrate its Nexus and Android/Galaxy worlds with Mac and PC.

      ###

      John Battelle
      Author, What We Hath Wrought (working title, forthcoming 2013)
      Chair, founder, Federated Media Publishing
      Searchblog – Twitter
      415-846-5510

      • http://abdallahalhakim.tumblr.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

        Can you elaborate more about this with specific examples? I would love to read and understand more about this. Thanks

        • Anonymous

          When I plug in my Nexus phone or tablet, it does not register on my computer, nor does it bring up the Play store. I can’t manage it via my computer. Big problem / opp

          • Don’t Plug Me, Bro

            You can install/remove apps on the web. Contacts should sync from the cloud. Music is in the cloud, too (that I can download easily to the device if won’t be able to stream when I want to play it). Use an instant uploader app to push pics/vids from the device to the cloud. I’m sure there are other use cases, but plugging your device into a computer isn’t a very useful thing to do these days.

          • misc

            That’s where the Apple and Google paradigms are completely different. Everything Android and Google play related is managed via the web. You simply log into play.google.com manage your apps from there – as soon as you hit “install” on the website, the app is pushed to your nexus. No cables.

            if you visit contacts.google.com you can manage all your contacts, which automatically sync with your nexus.

            Same with email, calendar, etc. It’s all on the web. No need to plug it into your computer.

          • johnbattelle

            I’m going to try making it all work on Nexus, but I’m not expecting miracles.

      • Anonymous

         I have such feeling that Googlr have to convince me that they are serious in this business. iPad/iPhone for me is a tool for listening to music I purchased from iTunes  (~2000 albums) and films I purchase and rent at iTunes (100+ documentaries purchased, a 3-5 films are rented per week)
        I am not sure that Google Play is long time commitment from Google. First, they announced Google Music and then renamed it to Google Play. Second, I’ve read that music world is very unhappy about Google Music since they sell extremely low amount of music vs iTunes and they may stop working with Google at some point. Google is not company which makes long term commitment. Remember, Google Knol, Wave, Notebook, many other products which were stopped once Google executives found a new toy to play (Google Glass, driveless cars).
        So, I think that at any moment Google may stop delivering content to its devices. While media: music, films and books are very serious investments for me which I plan to use for many years and I do not want to see that with my music in Google cloud will happen the same what happened to my data in Google Notebook or Google Wave.
        Because of that I do not consider purchasing tablet from Google.

        • Anonymous

          I don’t think Google is going to leave the entertainment business. It’s far too important for them.

          • http://abdallahalhakim.tumblr.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

            I completely agree. The way the Nexus7 is setup is very similar to the Kindle with the purpose of promoting google movies and music. It will be very surprising to see Google leaving this to Amazon and Apple. Whether they can outcompete them is a different story :)

          • atatata

             I agree with you. But with Orkut -> Google Wave -> Buzz -> Plus, google never left social. it was changing it every year. The same might be true about entertainment. Certainly Google will not leave it but it may re-brand and change it.
            For example, some time ago I wanted to install  application at my Android phone. I discovered that Market disappeared…WTF? It was replaced by Google Play.

          • johnbattelle

            Play is a way better market!

  • Anuj Agarwal

    It seems, these days all tech companies are focused on everything – Hardware, Software, Mobile, Social,Cloud etc etc. Its impossible to define these companies in one single line these days.

    • Anonymous

      They want to be the operating platform for your digital life.

  • george

    I think you can get pretty good money for your old iPad2 – probably more than the $200 it costs for a new Nexus 7. So point being, value is in the eye of the beholder (user) and for better or worse, Apple has already won the digital hearts and pocketbooks of the majority. Keep in mind, on one side, you have people who really care about the details and philosophical importance; while on the other side, you have consumers who just care about driving for the pleasure (experience). It’s going to be really hard for Google and alike to entice the Apple community to switch, there’s just not enough benefit in the device to create separation. My advice to all the other device makers; stop listening to your marketing people – positioning your product based on price won’t get you in the win column.

    Be bold, dig in, take a hard stand and don’t place conceptual limits based on price! How much better would the Nexus 7 really be if they had added another $200 in parts (display, processor, connections) and catered to a growing outlying segment of users? They’re not make a realized profit either way…

  • http://www.awwsullivan.com/ Adam Sullivan

    I’m curious to know if your unboxing experience, with the Nexus 7, was as painful as this video makes it out to be: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32DD4DF7Qpo&feature=player_embedded. If so… yikes.

    • Anonymous

      mine was really, really easy.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting post, John.  Looking forward to your thoughts on the cloud trust issue.  On the iPhone issue, I think that’s, like all devices and interfaces so much what you get used to.  I love the iPhone interface for most of what you mentioned.  But I did have lots and lots of free time to get used to it for various reasons and if I hadn’t had that opportunity it might have been different.  Being a student might afford one the time to adapt to it though it sounds like the Nexus may one better it anyway (if it can overcome the hardware/software integration that I think is spectacular).    

    I do hope you write lots more on what to me is the far more important topic (as you promised) of trust and the cloud. And someone with your knowledge covering it, it seems to me, is quite important.  I think it connects well with your thoughts on the implications of those search logs in the hands of Google and the presumption of trust without appreciating how vulnerable we really are until we  are forced to understand.  I hope you are able to get ahead of this issue so some of the players are put in a position of integrating trust prior to their customers learning their loss of control.  Thanks again.  And looking forward to your thoughts on Marissa Mayer that you are no doubt putting together as I write.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for reading David. I will be writing more, and yes, you were right, just finished a post on Mayer…

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  • jayce

    I have a nexus 7 and love it. I use my phone as if its just a basic phone now. I think Google is going in the right direction and I hope it shoots out 4G nexus so I don’t have to use my Verizon jetpack any more