Google $149 tablet is now “a done deal”

Sources say the product will start production in April, bidding to undercut Amazon and showcase new software releases

Google will snatch back the Android tablet initiative from Amazon within months with the launch of the first slate in its Nexus range, according to Taiwanese supply chain sources.

The tablet, to be a Google branded variant of the Asus MeMo – itself shown off at January’s Consumer Electronics Show – is likely to undercut the Amazon Kindle Fire’s eyecatching price tag, and offer a 7-inch design for between $149 and $199. Some analysts even say that Asus has agreed to cancel or postpone the MeMo to make way for the Nexus model, though in the past, Google partners have launched their own versions of the Nexus products in tandem.

However, that may miss the point that there are two aspects to the Fire’s success – its $199 price, but also its rich and seamless content experience. There are other well-priced Android tablets on sale, but they have still not gained mass uptake because of the lack of content ecosystem.

Google has yet to prove that it can deliver a content and apps platform with similar appeal and addictiveness to those of Amazon and Apple. It has recently rebranded its various stores, including the supposedly open Android Market, as Google Play, providing a unified hub. The tablet may therefore end up with something of a split role – the traditional remit of the Nexus models, to showcase the Android experience to developers and encourage new applications; and to promote the new Play system.

According to the Android and Me blog, which says the tablet is now “a done deal”, Asus is likely to use a dual-core processor rather than the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 it is putting into its own Android slate. The favoured candidate is the Texas Instruments OMAP4 – Google and TI have already worked extensively on Android optimization for OMAP, which features in the Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus handset.

NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim told ZDNet that the offering will have a 1280 x 800 resolution and that production is slated for April, with a production run of between 1.5m to 2m units. It may run Ice Cream Sandwich or even the upcoming next release of Android, JellyBean, in line with previous Nexus launches, which have tended to showcase a new OS version.

Google will hope to steal some of the market share won by the Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (21% of the US market between them), since it derives no direct benefit from those devices with their heavily customized Android overlays and content stores.

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