Nexus 7 with Jelly Bean: a large smartphone without the phone

Nexus 7 with Jelly Bean: a large smartphone without the phone

Summary: As Google readies the Nexus 7 for shipping, more information about the new tablet and latest version of Android is appearing. Unlike earlier versions of Android, Google has turned off some of the tablet bits.

TOPICS: Tablets, Android, Google

Google Nexus 7 tabletLike no doubt many tablet enthusiasts, my order for a Nexus 7 tablet is in the queue at Google waiting for shipping to begin. The new tablet is an outright bargain for the advanced design and hardware inside, and I am anxious to get my hands on one

While the shipping date is drawing nigh (Google is quoting 2 - 3 weeks), more information about the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean is appearing on the web. This information indicates that Google has taken a step back with Jelly Bean to tone down the tablet interface used in Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich.

The Nexus 7 home screen, the first thing that new buyers see, is restricted to work in portrait orientation. Google has decided that the 7-inch form factor of the Nexus 7 is better operated like phones, in portrait. Having used 7-inch Android tablets with earlier versions of the OS, I think that's a mistake.

Tablets are very personal devices given they are used in the hands, and all users do not use them the same way. Giving them the choice of operating the tablet in either landscape or portrait is a good thing, but not to be on the Nexus 7, at least on the home screens.

Having used other tablets that restrict operation to one orientation, I find this to be jarring at times. I can see using an app on the Nexus 7 in landscape and then hitting the home button. Even though the tablet is in landscape orientation, the home screen/ launch will appear displayed sideways in portrait. That is jarring to say the least. Choice for the user is always better and I wish Google would turn landscape on by default.

I also noticed in demos and early reviews appearing that in Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7 Google has dropped the tablet interface of Honeycomb and ICS, and gone with a large phone interface. Gone is the system bar at the bottom of the screen, and the phone style bar is at the top of the screen. Google has apparently decided that the simpler phone interface is better for the 7-inch tablet form factor.

I suspect this decision has a lot to do with the advanced notification system in Jelly Bean. Having the notifications at the top of the screen makes sense, better than at the bottom as in the earlier versions of Android.

That may be a good thing, I have never been overly fond of the complicated tablet interface in Android. But it does raise concerns about how well existing tablet apps (and there are a few) written for the tablet interface will run under the phone style UI of Jelly Bean.

I'm sure properly written tablet apps will work just fine, but good developers build the UI to fit the platform. The UI has now changed with the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean, so some apps may no longer have a UI that fits smoothly. We'll have to see how that works.

Of course Android is very hackable, and the homebrew community has already found a way to turn the tablet UI back on for the Nexus 7. I suspect the notifications won't work as well, but the option is there for those who don't like the big phone UI. Rooting the Nexus 7 and changing system files is required to make the change, so casual users should avoid this.

Google's choices for the Nexus 7 may be due to the smaller 7-inch display, even though it is high resolution (1280x800) for the size. If that's the case, then will Jelly Bean on larger tablets (10-inch) run with the older tablet interface? If that's true then it's going to get confusing with two different tablet interfaces depending on screen size.

Hopefully one of the 10-inch tablets will get an update to Jelly Bean and we can figure out where this is going. Until then, let's get those Nexus 7 tablets shipping to buyers, Google. We are an impatient lot.

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Topics: Tablets, Android, Google

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  • Ok, I might as well state the obvious. The Android OS is a work in progres

    For the sake of comparison, when the iPad launched, the OS (later to be called iOS) has retained, more or less, the same user "feel" from generation to generation.

    Android, however, in the few years that it has been available to the public has been constantly changing. From "smartphone" to "tablet" to "simplified" (Amazon Kindle Fire) and now back to "smartphone" UI styles, Android can only be termed an evolving work in progress.

    One would think that this is not a bad thing for the consumer. After all, more and advanced features are added to the OS in each following generation. Except, as James pointed out, the Android developers might find it had to constantly tweak their applications and, as all tablet users are aware of, the app ecosystem is everything.

    Apple developers were able to tweak their apps for each generation of iPad tablets. Now, it is the Android developers "moment to shine" when it comes to supporting this new Google Nexus 7 tablet ecosystem. Here's hoping they are up to the challenge.
    • Android changes

      Maybe Android changes to often because of the non-stop flood of BS harassment lawsuits from Apple?
      • Some changes might be able to be blamed on Apple

        but all of them? Really?
        Michael Alan Goff
    • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean works in both portrait and landscape

      As has been reported the UI on a 7" tablet is best in portrait mode. If this was a 10" tablet the default mode would have been landscape.
  • Because most android apps are designed for a phone

    Google has made the wise choice to optimise this tablet for running those phone apps. Phone apps don't usually look or work well in landscape.
    • Before the iPad, most iOS apps were designed for the phone also.

      We have over 230,000 iPad specific apps. As James said 'good developers build the UI to fit the platform.' But Google from day one insisted that developers only need to write for one platform, one app, and stretched out to conform to all screens. This obviously turned out to be a failed strategy, there's no worthy apps on Android for tablets. Just phone apps stretch to fit all screens.
      • That is not correct.

        There are more than 80,000 Android apps that are optimized for tablets. Try tablified and tablet market.
      • "...and stretched out to conform to all screens"

        The Android layout system doesn't need to "stretch"--you can fine-tune for different screen sizes and pixel densities to any degree. The support is all built-in.
  • Isn't any tablet just a large version of a phone, without the phone?

    I remember the same being said of the iPad, when it first came out.
    • And for the iPad it's true

      While there are a number of (in fact substantially more) apps that are optimized for the extra real estate that a tablet provides - especially compared to the tiny 3.5" iPhone screen, iOS itself has taken no advantage of it at all!! It's still the same inefficient rows of icons.

      The Android tablet OS was completely different for Honeycomb and the phone and tablet OSes merged in ICS. On Android, it makes sense primarily because of the existence of Widgets. The extra real estate allows larger widgets on the tablets - especially useful for mail, calendar etc. The next advantage I'm sure Google is considering is running apps side by side on tablets. Samsung's done that with the PIP feature for YouTube videos on the S3. I expect that Google will abstract that out for all apps.
  • Not quite

    I agree with you that the home screen should be allowed to work in the landscape mode. But I think the default for a 7" device is portrait. As far as the notifications is concerned, I think it should have been displayed from the bottom right as well, but it will not affect any apps. Apps don't care about the location of the notification shade/popup. There may be a some apps that are changing the notification drawer itself and perhaps they may have to be modified, but no other app will be affected.

    Also, Hugo Barra in an interview (with Wired I think), said that the 10" tablets will continue to be in landscape mode and the notifications will be initiated from the bottom as well for Jelly Bean.
  • I also received a Nexus 7 at I/O last week

    Here's another review, if you're interested:
  • home screen portrait mode is almost a must for 7" screen

    because the screen is only 7 inches, it doesnt allow for alot of home screen information to be viewed when in landscape. similarly to your desktop when you change the default from 1024x768 to 800-600, you have less room for your desktop items.

    while i agree, it will be annoying when doing something in landscape, pressing the home button and having to rotate to portrait there really isnt another option. users would be complaining more if the icons and widgets shrunk to fit in the page. i personally rarely use landscape on my galaxy nexus except for when viewing video.
  • UI Design

    It is interesting to watch the big three struggle with tablet UI design.

    Apple gives us portrait and landscape modes but their UI is basically a big sea of icons, it is neither innovative or interactive.

    Google's Android UI is far more sophisticated then Apple's. With a combo of icons and widgets you can customize the look and feel easily, toss in a live wallpaper and you've got a device that is personalized for you. Pushing its users into a portrait only shows that while icons can easily be reflowed from portrait to landscape, the same cannot be said for widgets and wallpapers.

    Microsoft is doing what it does best, taking the best pieces of their competitors and combining them. Windows 8 is a great example of this. Instead of icons, we have tiles and instead of widgets we have "live" tiles. The tiles make it easier to switch from landscape to portrait BUT as you see with the Surface tablets the UI was really designed with a landscape only approach and you cannot customize your wallpaper beyond the handful Microsoft provides.

    Personally I find Windows 8 the most appealing but it is far from perfect.
  • iPad is also a phone with a giant screen

    The only serious tablet in the pipeline is Windows 8. The others are little more than toys.
    Tim Acheson
    • They're staying away in droves

      And as we can tell from their sales, the Windows 7 tablets are lousy toys.
      Robert Hahn
  • Android is Just Like the Chrome Browser

    I swear, Android (on tablets), is constantly in "beta" just like the Chrome browser is/was. How long do you have to bake the cake until you call it done? Sure, iOS is constantly in a stae of upgrades, but at least the base product feels "finished" unlike Gingerbread/Honeycomb/Ice Cream Sandwich/Jelly Bean.

    • What feels unfinished

      in those android versions? Plenty of people still get by just fine with even gingerbread, because it does everything you would want a phone OS to do. Seems finished to me, personally.
      • I would say Jelly Bean is a sign of growing up

        After all, Project Butter might be the thing that stops the iOS users from being able to say their OS is more fluid.
        Michael Alan Goff
    • "Android is Just Like the Chrome Browser " ...really?

      You can't be serious... later this year, iOS6 will release with features from 2011's Android Ice Cream Sandwich. And don't get me started with Windows- Windows Mobile? Windows Phone 7? Windows 8? Talk about a fragmented mess... at least Android users can update to the new OS without having to buy new phones.