Talkin’ ‘Bout Tablets: Scratching the Surface, Needing the Nexus 7

Well it was a news-filled week last week, what with Google I/O going on, and the buzz about all the announcements made there still hasn’t died down.

Tongues have been wagging here in the Linux blogosphere as well, but one little tidbit has drawn particular attention. That’s the Android-powered Nexus 7, specifically, the prospect of which has more than a few geeks drooling with abandon.

“Google Nexus 7 Review Round-Up: Best $200 Tablet Available” was the tantalizing headline at PCWorld, for example. “The Kindle Fire’s got something to fear‎” was the word over at MSNBC.

Especially coming hard on the heels of Microsoft’s Surface announcement the way it did, Google’s new device has done nothing if not capture Linux bloggers’ imaginations.

‘Microsoft’s Record Is Beyond Abysmal’

“I think it goes without saying when you talk to me that Microsoft Surface is not eligible to take my money,” began Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza down at the Linux blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon.

“Besides basic principle (Microsoft is harmful to the computing industry and giving them money is therefore doing myself harm, as I’m in it), there’s also the truth that Microsoft has picked a particularly expensive route to their own tablet,” Espinoza explained.

“And then, of course, there’s the Xbox 360,” he added. “I bought one used and old so that it would not be likely to succumb to the red ring o’ death, and then repaired the bottom-dollar optical drive that they used. Microsoft’s record on hardware is beyond abysmal, and anyone who buys it hasn’t been paying attention.”

‘Famous for Vaporware’

Similarly, “I’m still not sure what Microsoft is trying to do with the Surface,” offered consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

“At this point even nontechnical people understand that Microsoft is famous for vaporware, and they have given enough of a lead time that their competitors will make use of the few good ideas they seemed to have,” Mack added.

And again: “Not sure where the foot gets in the door here,” agreed Slashdot blogger yagu.

‘Looks a Lot Like Zune’

“Microsoft almost introduced the tablets as vaporware,” yagu explained. “No real pricing information (other than ‘competitive’?). No idea what software will be compatible and what new software is going to be available. We aren’t even sure if they’re going to deliver with some kind of wireless (3G/4G?) options or if the new tablets will be simply wireless LAN.”

To top it off, there’s “a completely revamped interface and an OS different from Windows,” yagu added. “I think Windows users will be frustrated and iOS and Android users will be disinterested (amused).”

In short, “Microsoft is playing catchup again,” he concluded. “I predicted Zune was too little, too late, and it did fail. Best of luck to Microsoft on the tablets, but this effort looks a lot like Zune.”

‘I Don’t See the Point’

If Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien were to buy one of the two tablets right now, “it would be the Nexus 7,” he asserted. “I already have a bunch of Android apps for my Galaxy Nexus phone, so I would have something to start with, whereas Microsoft’s tablet would put me into a new ecosystem, and I don’t see the point.”

However, “I don’t plan to buy one right now, and when I do, it will be one that is larger, with a 9- or 10-inch screen, probably,” O’Brien added. “For me, 7-inch tablets fall into the ‘neither fish nor fowl’ zone. They are too big to be convenient to carry everywhere, like my phone, but too small to be a compelling media experience.”

Indeed, “the Microsoft Surface holds no interest for me outside of the keyboard,” agreed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “I’d be curious to see that particular piece of hardware put to use on a real tablet rather than Microsoft’s approximation.”

‘If You Love Android, Buy Nexus’

As for the Nexus 7, it’s “interesting, and I’m very tempted by it,” Linux Rants admitted. “I prefer a 10-inch form factor over the 7, which is really the only thing that’s holding me back.

“Also the fact that it’s a Nexus tablet makes it particularly desirable,” he added. “If my phone has taught me anything, it’s if you love Android, buy Nexus.”

Espinoza wasn’t convinced.

“The deal breaker for me is the lack of a rear-facing camera,” Espinoza said.

“I never want to videoconference,” he explained. “I often want to use augmented reality. A front-facing camera is therefore useless for me (I’m just not that narcissistic), and there’s already a ton of $200 tablets without a rear-facing one.”

‘Microsoft Will Have It Worse’

Indeed, while there’s generally more room for competition as a market expands, it’s not clear either Surface or the Nexus 7 will succeed, suggested Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

“Google has to be very careful about not undermining other Android tablet vendors, and it isn’t clear it will do everything users want,” Travers explained.

Meanwhile, “as difficult a time as Google has, Microsoft will have it worse,” he added. “The success in any market like this is to build an ecology of third party vendors around your product. If they persist on this being Microsoft-only, then this will be another Windows Phone (maybe even another Microsoft Bob), not another Xbox or even another Microsoft Explorer Mouse.”

There is room for more players, Travers concluded, but “there is no room for players that don’t have a clear idea of what they are going to accomplish and how they are going to let users do more.

“On the other hand, so what if another Microsoft product flops?” he mused. “It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time.”

‘Aiming at a Shrinking Share’

Microsoft is “way too late and a dollar short in tablets to make much difference,” blogger Robert Pogson opined. “While Google and its partners are building millions of units, M$ and its partners are doing trial runs.”

Google’s new tablets “will be able to work offline, something many still believe is necessary even though they spend all day on Facebook,” Pogson explained. “Combined with the known goodness of */Linux, consumers will love anything but M$ when they have a choice in the market, something they have not had since the 1980s as far as OS goes.”

Even just “a tiny push from retailers (Best Buy) and OEMs” will bring Google success, he predicted. Microsoft, on the other hand, “will be aiming at a shrinking share of what is left over by Apple, Google Android/Linux and Google Chrome/Linux.”

‘Far Back in the Field’

It’s possible that “M$ may get a little growth,” Pogson added. “Perhaps they will double their tiny share, but they will still be far back in the field of tablets next year.”

As far as Surface goes, “M$’s ‘partners’ are miffed that they have to compete with M$ and Google and Apple to sell products running M$’s OS,” he noted. “Even if Surface is vaporware, M$ will have frozen the market leaning towards M$’s stuff, stifling earlier product in partners’ pipelines.”

Bottom line: “OEMs are seeing that */Linux ships and sells, so why should they bother with the dinosaur which stepped on them?” Pogson concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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