Google is cramming a few more gadgets on to already crowded holiday shopping lists.
The devices 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.
Key shopping season
The array of phones and tablets hitting the market underscores how much mobile computing is shaking up the technology industry. The shift has undercut sales of desktop and laptop computers, decreasing the amount of revenue that Microsoft gets from licensing Windows and hurting companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. that make the machines.
Although Android has ensured that Google's search engine and other services play a prominent role in mobile computing, Google also is experiencing some short-term pain because the advertising rates on phones and tablets so far haven't been as high as the prices on desktops and laptops. Advertising accounts for most of Google's revenue.
Google's introduction of a larger tablet comes less than a week after Apple announced it's making a smaller, less expensive iPad, with a 7.9-inch display, to compete with the Nexus 7 and Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire. The iPad Mini will be available in stores Friday.
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.
The Nexus 4 phone boasts a 4.7-inch screen, larger than Apple's recently released iPhone 5 and just slightly smaller than Samsung's flagship phone, the Galaxy S III. A 16-gigabyte model of the Nexus 4 will sell for $199 with a two-year contract to buy phone service and Internet access from T-Mobile. A contract-free version is available for $299 with 8 gigabytes of storage and $349 for the 16-gigabyte model. Google is touting the Nexus 4's wireless charging capability as a major selling point.
Windows enters competitive space
Microsoft entered the tablet fray last week with the Surface. The initial model runs Windows RT, part of the Windows 8 family of operating systems. Microsoft has radically redesigned Windows to appeal to people who want the utility of a personal computer coupled with the convenience of smaller mobile devices that rely on touch controls. More than 1,000 PCs and other devices are expected to run on Windows 8.
Microsoft launched its version of Windows 8 for smartphones in San Francisco at an event Monday that included an appearance by actress Jessica Alba. Google had hoped to upstage Microsoft's celebration by rolling out its latest gadgets at an event a few hours earlier in New York, but that got canceled because of Hurricane Sandy. The company, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., instead released details about the devices in a blog post.
Besides adding more hardware to its online store, Google is expanding its music library to include Warner Music Group's catalog. Warner had been the only holdout among the major music labels when Google began selling music a year ago to compete with Apple's iTunes stores. The company also said it will begin selling music in Europe beginning Nov. 13.
The Android update includes a feature called Gesture Typing, which tries to anticipate what words a user wants to enter as they are entering text. The guesses are based on an analysis of typical sentence structures and users' past entries.
Another new feature called Photo Sphere stitches together 360-degree pictures of rooms and landscapes. The high-resolution photos created with this tool are similar to the shots shown in Google's Street View feature in its online maps.