Giving a direct competition to Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire, Google on Wednesday unveiled tablet computer - the Nexus 7 that will start shipping next month. The tablet also could appeal to consumers looking for a less expensive, less sophisticated alternative to Apple Inc.'s iPad.
The Nexus 7 is designed specifically for Google Play, an online store that sells movies, music, books, apps and other content. That mirrors Amazon's strategy with the Kindle Fire, although Amazon's strength in online retailing has seeded its store with a more extensive selection than Google Play. Amazon declined comment.
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The size and price of the Nexus 7 also matches the Kindle Fire. Both have 7-inch screens and sell for $199. The Nexus 7 is slightly lighter at about 0.75 pound, compared with the Kindle Fire's 0.9 pound.
By contrast, the iPad's screen measures nearly 10 inches diagonally and weighs 1.44 pounds. Apple sells its latest models for $499 and up, though an older version is available for $399.
Customers can start ordering the Nexus 7 through Google on Wednesday, initially in the US, Canada and Australia. The device won't ship until mid-July.
Google's announcement that it's putting its brand on a tablet comes a week after Microsoft Corp. did the same thing. Both moves risk alienating Google's and Microsoft's hardware partners. Those companies, in turn, could be less inclined to work closely with Google and Microsoft.
The Nexus 7's price looks like a relative bargain, given that it boasts more features than the Kindle, including a front-facing camera with 1.2 megapixels. The Kindle is believed to be a roughly break-even product for Amazon at $199. Samsung Electronics Co. sells a tablet similar to Google's for $250.
Andrew Rassweiler, an analyst with IHS iSuppli, said he suspects Google will be selling the Nexus 7 at a loss.
Google has previously put its own brand on a flagship line of "Nexus" smartphones. But that market is more mature than the tablet market, and there was less risk of Google alienating partners, particularly because it didn't price the phones lower than the norm.
Much like the Nexus phones, the Nexus 7 tablet will be a showcase for a new version of Google's Android operating system - this one called Jelly Bean.
Although the tablet carries the Google brand, the machine will be made by AsusTek Computer Inc. Google recently expanded into the device-making business with its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility, but the company has stressed that it intends to continue to rely on Asus and other manufacturers that have embraced Android.
There are already other Android-powered tablets on the market, but none have proven nearly as popular as the iPad or Kindle Fire. That has raised worries at Google as more people rely on tablets to surf the Internet.
For Google, advertising dollars are at stake. If Apple retains its dominance and other players such as Amazon and Microsoft gobble up the rest of the sales, they could set up their operating systems in ways that de-emphasise Google's Internet search engine and other services. Apple develops its own system, while Amazon modifies Android for use in Kindles. Microsoft's will run on a new version of Windows.
Apple already has announced that the next version of the iPad operating system will abandon Google's digital maps as the built-in navigation system. That shift could cause neighbourhood merchants to spend less money advertising on Google.
With AP inputs