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

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Google Nexus 7 tablet
Like 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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