Saturday, September 15, 2012

Google's New Nexus 7 Tablet Gives Android an Instant Boost

Google’s slick Nexus 7 tablet - running the latest version of Android, dubbed Jelly Bean - arrived in stores in the middle of July. For the next couple of weeks, the Nexus 7 was so popular it was virtually impossible to find. The wait for delivery on the Google Play store was more than a week. And even beyond fast early sales, the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean are already having a profound impact on Android.

According to numbers from Google, Jelly Bean is running on 0.8% of Android devices. While 0.8% may not seem that significant, it's actually quite impressive when you put it in context.

About 1 million Android devices are activated across the globe daily. The vast majority of even those new devices are not running the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system. In fact, most Android devices are still running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, released at the end of 2010. The latest numbers from Google pin Gingerbread at 60.6% of all Android devices.

It is important to note that Google measures these numbers by calculating the types of devices that have accessed its Android Google Play store over any 14-day period. If a device did not access Google Play, it is likely not among the monthly stats that Google gives developers.

One complaint that many consumers have about Android is that their devices do not receive new versions of the platform in a timely manner - or ever. Google announces the versions once or twice a year but new devices that are sold with the latest software do not come for months. Existing devices often take even longer to get updates, if they get them at all.

Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) was announced at the end of 2011 and represented a big step up for the platform in terms of performance, design and function. The problem was that ICS was available on just one device, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and through limited carriers. Updates and new devices running Android 4.0 did not arrive until the middle of spring 2012.

For instance, the first ICS device (the HTC One X) did not show up on the nation’s second largest carrier, AT&T, until the middle of May. More than six months after ICS was announced, the operating had barely been installed on 3% of all Android devices. As more devices are being updated and shipped using ICS, Android 4.0 has risen to 15.9% of all devices.

Further extrapolation of Google’s data shows us that larger screens comprise an increasing segment of the active Android user base. This is in large part because of the Nexus 7. Google defines “large” screen devices as those with displays between five and seven inches. It further classifies devices between four levels of pixel density (low, medium, high and extra high). With a resolution of 1280x800, the Nexus 7 falls into the “extra high” category.

Taken together, large screens with extra-high pixel density now make up 4.5% of Android devices that have accessed Google Play. That number was virtually zero in the months leading up to the release of the Nexus 7, as there were basically no seven-inch tablets with extra-high resolutions on the market.

What does that tell us? First, the Nexus 7 is selling extremely well in relation to the rest of the Android ecosystem. Second, people with Nexus 7 devices are accessing Google Play at high rates. That makes sense. The first thing that people do when they get a new mobile device is access the store to find apps and other content to use with their new toys.

In many ways, that 4.5% Google Play access figure is more telling for Android and Google than the 0.8% of devices that are running the  Jelly Bean operating system.

The question for the long run is how well the Nexus 7 sustains this rate of growth. Consumers, and especially Android enthusiasts, are naturally excited about Google’s first flagship tablet with the latest version of its operating system. When Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet was released late in 2011, it saw a similar spike in adoption in its first few months on the market. Sales and use of the Kindle Fire have since tapered off.

So far, as we see through the Jelly Bean adoption rates, Google’s entrance into the tablet market with the Nexus 7 has been a success. That will be cause for celebration for many Android fans and employees at Google (and its manufacturing partner ASUS, which built the tablet).

That excitement is justified. Google has registered a clear win with the Nexus 7, and by correlation, its Jelly Bean-deployment strategy. But Google's celebrations should be tempered as the market awaits fall (or, really, holiday) tablet plans from Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. Whether the Nexus 7's success is lasting or fleeting will be evident by the end of 2012.