A press release came across my desk today for another new Android tablet. I don't usually report on all of the product launch emails I get, but this one is particularly interesting because of what is says about Google, Amazon, and the Android ecosystem.
E-Fun announced today that they are launching a new budget tablet, the Nextbook Premium 7SE-GP. In spite of the name, this is a rather ordinary device which runs Android 4.0 ICS on a 1GHz single-core CPU. It has a cheap 7" screen and otherwise unremarkable specs as well as an unremarkable retail rice of $129 (shelf price will likely be $99).
I usually don't report on tablet launches (there are so so many), but I'm making an exception in this case because this tablet signifies a change in the market.
This is the first tablet from E-Fun which ships with Google Play.
E-Fun is a budget tablet maker, and for as long as I have known them they have never released a tablet that shipped with Android Market or Google Play. As I understood it, E-Fun's tablets (like many other budget Android devices) didn't meet certain minimum requirements for Google to allow the tablets to have access to the Android Market.
E-Fun's tablets have been consistently cheap and underpowered for a couple years now, only now that no longer seems to be an issue for Google. Now Google is willing to let E-Fun into their exclusive club.
I wonder why?
This could just be wild speculation on my part, but it is my guess that Google is beginning to be very afraid of the Kindle Fire. That is something which I have been pondering for a while now, and the E-Fun news today is merely one more piece of evidence proving it true. Past evidence includes the Kobo Vox and the Nexus 7.
Several months back Kobo announced that the Kobo Vox, their lackluster Android tablet, got a free update which added Google Play. The Vox had specs not too dissimilar from the Nextbook Premium 7SE-GP mentioned above, so it came as something of a surprise at the time that Google would allow it to have such a coveted prize.
And then there's the Nexus 7. Did you ever wonder why Google felt the need to release such a powerful tablet at such a low price (same as the Kindle Fire)? They undercut all their current hardware partners, which is a big no-no. Pissing off the manufacturers which make most of the Android phones and tablets is a terribly stupid move - unless it is the lesser of two evils.
It's my guess that Google is worried that Amazon could be making more Kindles Fire than anyone else is making genuine Android tablets. Or at the very least Google is afraid of the appearance that Amazon is out-selling everyone else.
I would hope I'm right, because that would mean that more and more cheap tablets will be shipping with Google Play, making them easier to use. It's also going to force Google to find a way to compete with Amazon, and that will also be a good thing for consumers.
Then again, there are other possible explanations. I just can't think of any one which fits the evidence better.