Over the past several weeks, various reports indicated that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) was working on yet another Nexus, an 8-inch device that would compliment its existing Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets.
On Tuesday, Google began selling a special version of LG's 8.3-inch G Pad. Running a pure version of Google's Android 4.4, the Google Play edition G Pad is likely the source of the Nexus 8 rumors. While it's an interesting device, I wouldn't expect it to sell particularly well -- and it will be unlikely to steal many of Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) or Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) tablet sales.
Google's Play editions
Because Google's Android is an open-source project, its hardware partners are allowed to make extensive modifications to the mobile operating system. Most of them do -- Samsung, for example, tweaks Android heavily with its TouchWiz skin.
Prior to this year, in order to get the pure version of Android -- the version Google itself designed, free from alternations -- customers had to purchase Google's own Nexus devices. These devices aren't made by Google itself (Samsung, LG, and Acer actually build them), but are exclusive hardware configurations none the less.
But this year, Google expanded the Nexus line -- sort of. Buying a Google Play edition will give consumers the "Nexus experience" (to quote former Google executive Hugo Barra): The stock version of Android and software updates directly from Google. But unlike the Nexus lineup, these devices aren't exclusive. The Google Play edition of Samsung's Galaxy S4 is the same as any other Samsung Galaxy S4 -- except it's running Google's pure Android, not Samsung's modified version.
That may make them preferable in theory: Many tech reviewers have criticized the modifications made to Android by companies like Samsung. But even with a purer version of Google's mobile operating system, I wouldn't expect the Google Play edition of the G Pad to sell particularly well.
The iPad Mini vs the G Pad
At $350, it's only $50 less expensive than Apple's competing iPad Mini with retina display. For that extra $50, buyers of Apple's similar-sized iPad Mini get a sharper display and a faster processor. More importantly, they get access to Apple's well-established tablet ecosystem.
Although Google has pushed new initiatives aimed at building support for Android tablets among mobile developers, Apple still has the upper hand. The iPad has over 475,000 apps designed for it specifically -- Google's Android has nowhere near as many tablet-optimized apps, instead relying on ugly, stretched-out versions of ones made for Android handsets.
Apple's tablet business may have been hit by the rise of Android-powered tablets. In recent quarters, Apple's tablet sales have stalled, as Android tablets have overtaken Apple's iPad in overall market share. But if Google is gaining on Apple in terms of tablets, it's probably coming at the low-end: IDC notes that ultra-cheap Android tablets continue to constitute a "fairly large percentage" of the overall Android tablet market.
Samsung's dominance extends to tablets
Samsung makes a number of cheap Android tablets, which has likely contributed to its recent market share growth. Last quarter, Samsung was the second-largest tablet vendor (behind Apple), as its unit shipments grew by 123% on a year-over-year basis.
But Samsung doesn't just make cheap tablets -- it also makes expensive ones. And mid-priced ones. Small tablets, large tablets, you name it, Samsung makes it. Samsung is even said to be preparing a super-sized, 12-inch tablet for release next year.
Even though LG's Google Play Edition G Pad could attract some buyers that would otherwise have gone with a Samsung-made tablet, the overall shift in market share should be small. The $350 G Pad isn't really a competitor to Samsung's $500, fully featured Note 10.1, nor does it really appeal to the same group of buyer's as Samsung's $200 Galaxy Tab 7.
Google Play edition or the normal G Pad?
Rather than Apple or Samsung, the Google Play edition G Pad's biggest competition may in fact be LG's standard G Pad. At just $300, it's almost 15% cheaper, and is indistinguishable from a hardware standpoint. It may not offer the "Nexus experience," but is that truly worth another $50?
And that, in fact, is the problem with this device: the Google Play edition G Pad is just a more expensive version of LG's tablet with a simplified operating system. Far from the future of the Nexus line, this is one tablet investors in the space can safely ignore.
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