Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) has partnered with hardware manufacturers to release several Nexus tablets in recent years. With Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) reportedly planning to sell tablets with larger screens in 2014, will a bigger Nexus device make an appearance next year? I think it's a likely possibility, and should help to popularize the 12-inch tablet form-factor.
The Nexus 10 is a no-show in 2013
Google rolled out the first Nexus tablet, the original Nexus 7, in the summer of 2012. A larger, more expensive Nexus 10 followed in the fall. About a year later, as one might expect, Google refreshed the Nexus 7, rolling out an improved version in 2013.
Yet strangely, there was no second Nexus 10. The year has come and gone, and a 2013 edition of the Nexus 10 is nowhere to be found. With the holiday shopping season over, and the next version of Android likely to be many months away, a delayed Nexus 10 release remains possible, but seems unlikely.
Samsung is moving into larger tablets
Could Google go with a Nexus 12 instead? Unlike Apple, Google doesn't manufacture its Nexus tablets, instead working with its Android partners to make the devices. In the past, it's varied the companies it works with, but Google has become more loyal as of late. LG made the last two Nexus handsets, while Asus has built both Nexus 7s.
Samsung made the first Nexus 10, and if Google's loyalty to Asus and LG is any indication, it should be expected to make the second. Other than the Nexus 10, Samsung has made a number of 10-inch tablets, including the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
But Samsung is branching out into larger tablets, reportedly working on a 12.2-inch Galaxy Note Pro. This larger Samsung tablet should go on sale next year and could even be offered through AT&T.
Reinvigorating tablet demand
Samsung's 12.2-inch tablet could help the company grow its sales. Although Samsung's share of the tablet market has increased notably in recent months (doubling in the third quarter), the overall tablet market appears to be slowing: In December, IDC cut its forecast for 2013 tablet shipments and warned that tablet demand growth would fall into the single digits within four years.
Apple remains the single largest tablet manufacturer, but the iPad business has begun to look shaky. In the third quarter, Apple sold just 14.1 million iPads -- largely unchanged from the same period in 2012. Competition from cheaper tablets running Google's Android, in addition to tablet saturation, may have weighed on iPad sales.
Like Samsung, Apple is said to be working on a larger iPad: The most recent report from DigiTimes claims Apple will launch a 12.9-inch iPad in October 2014. As with Samsung's new Galaxy Note, it could also carry the "Pro" moniker -- Apple's decision to label its (for now) large iPad the "iPad Air" suggests that an "iPad Pro" should be forthcoming.
A new form-factor could help drum up general consumer interest, but it could also allow tablets to enter new markets. Microsoft has tried to characterize its 10.1-inch Surface tablet as a laptop replacement, but sales have been sluggish -- doing real, productive work on a 10.1-inch screen is difficult, if not impossible. Many laptops, however, feature 12- or 13-inch screens, and similarly sized tablets could actually have an appeal as work devices.
Can Google popularize the 12-inch form-factor?
Google's Nexus 7 wasn't the first 7-inch tablet, but it may have been the first truly successful Android tablet. Apple followed with its own similarly sized iPad Mini, and the smaller size has flourished.
Will Google have a similar effect on the 12-inch form-factor? A 12-inch Nexus tablet remains merely speculation on my part, but given Samsung's partnership with Google and the push into bigger tablets, I think it's a likely possibility.
Ultimately, those bigger tablets could attract buyers who would have otherwise gone for a traditional laptop, helping to reinvigorate a tablet market that has begun to show signs of maturation.
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