Why the Nexus 7 is taking off

Finally, a successful tablet not made by Apple?

One of the lessons that seemed to come out of the spectacular failure of HP' webOS-based TouchPad last year was the adage that in the tablet space, you have to either go big or go home.

If that adage holds any water, then there may be a tablet on the market that can stand up to the iPad market behemoth: the Nexus 7.

The 16-GB version of the Android-based tablet is reportedly sold out on Google's online Play store, and it's getting hard to find the devices in US retail outlets like GameStop and Staples.

Anonymous sources told The Guardian that "the search giant seriously underestimated the demand for the 16GB version of its 7in Nexus 7 tablet, which has sold out from [stocklists] and other sources while demand for the smaller 8GB version remains comparatively low."

Analysts pretty much agree that the reason why the 16-GB flavor of the Nexus 7 is selling like hotcakes is because the price differential is so small between it and the 8-GB device--a mere $50. That's a relatively small price to pay for double the storage capacity.

As excited as I am that an Android tablet is kicking butt and taking names, I have to kind of wonder about this conceit that Google was somehow unprepared for the number of orders. I suspect that we're seeing a little bit of artificial demand being created here, to make the Nexus a "get" item and drive up the number of back-orders for the device.

Planned scarcity is one thing, but initial reviews of the Nexus 7 have been positive enough to keep the demand for these tablets genuine.

I think that the Nexus 7 is finally a strong non-Apple competitor in the tablet market for other reasons, as well. Price and mini-tablet form factor are certainly reasons, but there are other issues in play as well.

Cross-Device Familiarity. While it was drastically underplayed, in order to dull down the "giant iPhone" comparisons wags were making when the iPad was released in 2010, the fact is that one of the keys to the iPad's success was the overall market familiarity with the iOS interface, thanks to the iPhone. That, and the capability to buy/download the same apps for both platforms, helped bring in a lot of "built-in" customers.

As pervasive as Android smartphones are now, we have reached the point where people "trust" Android enough to opt for an Android tablet. Google's various Android interfaces (and there are many) have nonetheless had enough commonality to get customers used to the general Android way of doing things. That, and the fact the general malware Armageddon that security vendors blast at Android phones from time to time has yet to actually happen, raises Android's tablet street cred considerably.

It's Regarded as a "Neutral" Platform. Neutral, I should note to start, is not a reference to open source, because I am staying with consumer perception and most consumers couldn't give a darn about whether a platform is free or open source.

"Neutral" refers to the perceived "intent" of the device, particularly when compared with Amazon's Kindle Fire.

It's easy to knock the Kindle Fire versus the Nexus 7. Kindle Fire is a year old and it using aged hardware and software technologies. But even if the capabilities of each for the devices were much closer, I think the Nexus 7 would still be more popular.

This thought occurred to me over the weekend as I was discussing the marketing brilliance of the rumored Amazon smartphone with a family member. Such a device, in my opinion, would make shopping so ridiculously seamless only a direct telepathic link to Amazon's commerce servers would make the process faster. But upon ruminating on this point further, a counterpoint soon became apparent: if a user recognizes Amazon devices for what they are--gateways to buy more of Amazon's stuff--then this could work against Kindle Fire and any future Amazon-branded device.

Don't get me wrong: Apple's and Google's respective devices are meant to sell you stuff, too. Put the perception is that the sale of content through the iTunes and Play stores, respectively, is a secondary mission for these two vendors. The perception of Amazon's mission--enforced by the fact that Amazon actually sells physical items--is that an Amazon device is all about ecommerce. For some that will be an advantage. For others--I think most--that it will be perceived as too opportunistic on the part of Amazon. Or, at best, not much of a difference to matter, since access to Amazon on any tablet or smartphone is not that hard to manage now, if that's what you need to do.

These theorems, right or wrong, don't change the fact that the Nexus 7 is in high demand right now, which will undoubtedly prompt a product response from Apple and Amazon soon. It will also be interesting to see how the Microsoft Surface performs in this increasingly crowded tablet market.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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