Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is cramming a few more gadgets on to already crowded holiday shopping lists.
The devices announced Monday include the latest in Google’s line of Nexus smartphones and a larger version of the 7-inch Nexus 7 tablet, which the company began selling in July. It’s also adding cellular capabilities to the Nexus 7 and doubling the capacity of existing models.
The Nexus 4 smartphone is being made by LG Electronics Inc. and features a minor update to Google’s Android operating system, which now powers more than 500 million devices worldwide. A more comprehensive makeover, known as Key Lime Pie, is expected next year. The version of Android affected by these changes is known as Jelly Bean.
The larger Nexus tablet is being made by Samsung Electronics Co. and features a display screen that measures about 10 inches diagonally, about the same size as Apple Inc.’s top-selling iPad.
With these additions to its product lineup, Google joins a procession of companies selling a gamut of sleek and powerful computing devices in different shapes and sizes. Some are smartphones and others are tablet computers, but they all aim to cater to people’s growing interest to have easily portable devices that can be used to connect to the Internet, take pictures, watch video, play games and read books, magazines and newspapers.
Google’s Nexus devices will be competing with gadgets from such companies as Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc., Samsung and Microsoft Corp. Microsoft released a new tablet called Surface last week and launched new software for phones on Monday.
The new tablet, made by Samsung, is called Nexus 10 and has a higher resolution screen and costs $399 to $499, depending on how much storage it includes.
Google has expanded into mobile software and hardware to lessen its dependence on Web search and widen a beachhead in the growing market for advertising on wireless devices. Based on second-quarter results, the company is on pace to generate $8 billion in mobile-ad revenue on an annual basis, Google said Oct. 18. While Android has the biggest share of smartphone software, Google lags behind Apple in tablets.
“Google’s big problem at the moment is that Android, unlike in smartphones, is not really going anywhere in tablets,” said Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group in Boston. “It’s struggling to figure out what it wants to be.”
Google also added features to the Nexus 7, an Android tablet with a 7-inch screen introduced with Taiwan’s Asustek Computer Inc. in June. Google said the price of the 16-gigabyte version dropped to $199 from $249. It also added a $249 edition with 32 gigabytes of memory. A $299 version will feature access to wireless networks, including AT&T Inc.
Some analysts have questioned whether consumers will balk at the iPad Mini’s $329 price for a device with 16 gigabytes of storage. Google is widening the price difference between the iPad Mini and its smaller tablet by cutting $50 off the price of a comparable, 16-gigabyte Nexus 7, to $199. The 8-gigabyte version, which had sold for $199, will be discontinued.
A Nexus 7 with 32 gigabytes of storage is being introduced for $249 in an apparent effort to discourage even more people from buying the iPad Mini. The cheapest Nexus 7 is still pricier than the Kindle Fire, which starts at $159 for a no-frills model.
The Nexus 7 tablets will continue to be sold at Google’s Play store online as well as such retailers as GameStop, Office Depot, Office Max, Staples and Wal-Mart.
Analysts estimate Google has sold several million Nexus 7 tablets so far. Google declined to disclose how many units have shipped. The tablet “has been an amazing success,” said Hugo Barra, Android’s director of product management. “We had to work extra hard to meet demand.”
Nexus 7 owners have been buying and looking at so much content on the tablet that Google decided to create a larger version with Samsung, Barra said. The Nexus 7 is made by AsusTek Computer Inc.
The Nexus 10 tablet with 16 gigabytes of storage will sell for $399. That’s $100 less than the comparable version of the latest iPad, though the older iPad 2 is still available at that price. The Nexus 10 goes on sale in Google’s online store Nov. 13.
Both the Nexus 10 and the new Nexus 7 models will allow multiple users to create separate personal profiles on the devices by using different account names and passwords.
Google made headway in the smartphone market through its acquisition of Motorola Mobility Holdings this year and by forging partnerships with a broad range of other manufacturers, including Samsung, the biggest maker of smartphones. Android had 64 percent of the smartphone software market in the second quarter, up from 43 percent a year earlier, according to Gartner Inc. Apple’s share rose to 19 percent from 18 percent.
While Google doesn’t charge for Android software, it makes money from advertising and from fees for its “Google Play” store. The company’s revenue tied to mobile businesses is on pace to reach $8 billion on an annual basis, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette told analysts this month.
Google has fared more poorly than Apple in tablets in part because Android has fewer downloadable games, productivity tools and other applications tailored specifically for tablets.
Many of the apps on Android tablets are just enlarged versions of what would otherwise go on smartphones, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner Inc.
“It became an issue of: ‘Where are the apps?,’” Gartenberg said. “If all you’ve got are smartphone apps that are kind of blown up to the big screen and don’t really take advantage of the tablet, consumers aren’t going to be interested.”
Apple added to its tablet lineup last week with the iPad mini, a smaller version boasting a 7.9-inch screen. Apple will probably expand its tablet market share to 60 percent in 2016 from a projected 58 percent this year, according to Gartner. Android will have 30 percent in 2016, compared with 40 percent this year.
Samsung’s new tablet is targeted at earlier, larger versions of the iPad, Howe said.
The 10.1-inch device, which features a screen with 300 pixels per inch, is available with 16 gigabytes or 32 gigabytes of memory. The battery provides as many as nine hours of video playback and more than 500 hours of standby time.
The Nexus 4 phone, which can be bought with a contract or unlocked, lets users recharge the device wirelessly, using a charging surface.
The new phone and tablet will be available starting Nov. 13 through the Google Play store and in outlets in the U.S. and other countries.
The new devices feature the latest version of Google’s Jelly Bean Android software. One of the new capabilities, called Photo Sphere, lets users create 360-degree pictures. The new version also offers Gesture Typing, which speeds up the process of entering letters.
The Google Play store, which features movies, music and books, is adding more content, including new partnerships with Time Warner Inc. and Warner Music Group.
Aside from Apple, Google also competes with Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which on Monday unveiled a new version of its software for smartphones and last week made its first foray into the hardware market by releasing the Surface tablet.
The Nexus 7 has garnered positive reviews for ease of use and lured consumers with a $199 price tag. The company has probably sold 800,000 to 1 million Nexus 7s in the third quarter, according to Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos.
Still, that pales in comparison with the 14 million iPads that Apple sold during the quarter.
“Nexus will continue to be a showpiece rather than a true competitor in the mobile market,” Munster wrote in an Oct. 19 research note.
The Nexus 7 will probably lose some of its allure now that Apple has unveiled the iPad mini, Gartenberg said.
“What they’re going to have to come up with is an answer to the fundamental consumer question, ‘Why should I buy this instead of an iPad?,’” Gartenberg said. “And for the most part, Android tablets have not done a good job answering that question.”
(The AP and Bloomberg contributed to this report.)