Suddenly, Google has a real hardware business on its hands. Via the Google Play Store, it sells smartphones, tablets, a funky media device, and even accessories. Just what in tarnation is going on here?
Google started selling its first hardware in January 2010. Well, that was when it started selling the first bit of hardware that mattered, anyway. Google announced the Nexus One, a "pure" Android device meant to serve as a testbed for developers and as a token smartphone to Android enthusiasts.
Things didn't end well for the Nexus One. Though it was a great phone, consumers didn't care to pony up the full $500+ retail price and match it with a T-Mobile calling plan. Other carriers initially committed to offering compatible versions of the Nexus One, but those plans were eventually scrapped. Once Google ran out of stock of the original Nexus One, it ceased selling smartphones.
Fast forward two years, and Google resurrected its smartphone dreams with the Galaxy Nexus. With the Google Play Store--Google's iTunes competitor--firmly in place, Google had a visible storefront though which it could sell hardware. (We can all just ignore the fact that the Google Play Store is really for content, such as music, movies, and apps.) Earlier this year, Google began selling smartphones directly to consumers once again.
Once hardware sales were back on the table, reports began to float around the internet that Google's hardware store was going to grow significantly by the end of the year. Not only would Google sell smartphones, but tablets, as well.
On day 1 of the Google I/O developer conference, Google proved those rumors true.
[ Get a play-by-play account of what Google revealed at its I/O day 1 keynote. See Google I/O Live Blog: Tablet Eyed. ]
Google announced the Nexus 7 tablet, a new media-consumption device aimed squarely at Amazon's Kindle Fire. The tablet can only be purchased from the Google Play Store. Google is accepting preorders for the device, and will start shipping it in July.
Google also announced the Nexus Q, a spherical Android-based media station that links Android smartphones with television sets and entertainment centers.
In addition to the Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7, and Nexus Q, Google is selling several accessories for these products in the Google Play Store. In just a few short months, Google has gone from zero hardware for sale to a little toe-hold in the consumer electronics sales business.
What remains to be seen is whether or not Google can/will keep its hardware ambitions alive this time. Google shied away from the difficult direct-to-consumer sales model two years ago with the Nexus One. Now that Google has more devices to sell, will consumers give it a second chance? It's certainly possible. For one, Android is far more visible now than it was even two years ago. It's grown from an iOS wannabe to the dominant smartphone platform on the planet.
Given Android's market position and the strong growth of the "Nexus" branding, Google has a real shot of making this new hardware business work.
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