The Value Of The Bleeding Edge: Thoughts On A Nexus Tablet

Just a few days after the Galaxy Nexus landed in the United States, it appears that Google’s next foray into the consumer electronics space may be a little bigger. According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Google’s Eric Schmidt has let slip that Google plans to throw its considerable weight behind a tablet within the next six months.

If you’re looking for details, prepare to be disappointed. Schmidt declined to mention anything concrete on the device: there was nary a word on specifications, features, or even potential manufacturers (though Motorola and Samsung would be prime suspects).

In fact, if the Google translation holds true, all we can really tell is that he expects things to heat up between Google and rival Apple.

That hasn’t stopped the rest of the blogosphere from (perhaps erroneously) referring to the nebulous machine as a Nexus tablet. While I admit that my heart goes aflutter at the mere mention of a new Nexus series device, I’m not sure that slapping the Nexus name on a tablet would do Google much good, especially if it turns out that they want to take on the iPad.

What strikes me as particularly odd about the idea of a Nexus tablet is that the Nexus brand has been meant from the beginning to put users right at Android’s cutting edge. Each new Nexus device debuted alongside a major Android update: Android 2.1 debuted with the Nexus One, Gingerbread debuted with the Nexus S, and (as if I have to remind you) Ice Cream Sandwich recently launched with the Galaxy Nexus.

It seems to me that the driving idea behind the Nexus series of devices is that they aim to provide people with the cleanest, most up-to-date version of Google’s Android vision. And that’s great — as an Android nerd (among other things), I rather appreciate it. But when it comes to the mass market, would a strictly vanilla experience (even one that gets updated frequently) appeal to people?

I recently posted an opinion piece on why I didn’t want Samsung to “ruin” Ice Cream Sandwich, in which I mainly asked the company to let Ice Cream Sandwich shine as opposed to completely covering it up with their near-ubiquitous TouchWiz UI. Commentors agreed with me, but Philip Berne tweeted this at me:

MobileBurn’s Dan Seifert followed up with this:

They both had a point, and it got me to thinking: let’s say a Nexus tablet does indeed materialize during the next few months. What exactly does a (probably ICS-powered) tablet need to do to appeal to a wide audience? A constant stream of updates? An unencumbered UI? Love it or hate it, TouchWiz does indeed add a lot to the stock Android experience, and that sort of approach may be closer to what people actually want.

The Nexus line has always been about being on the bleeding edge, and the value of being on the bleeding edge is in the thrill of experiencing something new. Naturally though, not everyone will want to deal with the potential hiccups that could come with it.

Google seems to understand that the Nexus line hasn’t played terribly well with the non-techie audience, which explains the fun, people-oriented tone of their Galaxy Nexus commercials. Would it be impossible for them to spin the Nexus brand into something more approachable, more friendly to your less-than-geeky parents and friends? Of course not, but they couldn’t do it without risking some of the brand’s original audience. A Nexus-branded tablet could be risky no matter how Google chose to spin it.

That is, if it’s a Nexus tablet at all. Schmidt played those cards very close to his chest during the interview, and this talk of a Nexus tablet could turn out to be the work of a few bloggers with high hopes. But if Google truly intends to take to make a big splash in the tablet space, they’ll need a hook, and I don’t think the Nexus brand is it.