April 13, 2012 at 2:46 PM ET
Rumors of a Google-branded tablet have been in the air for a few months now, but Thursday brought perhaps the most solid direct evidence that the search company is planning on entering into the tablet melee. While answering questions during Google's earnings call, CEO Larry Page made comments that seem to corroborate the more circumstantial rumors that have been spreading lately.
Asked about the company's plans regarding tablets, Page noted that there are a few lower-priced tablets that have found success, but none that run a "full version of Android." This was likely a veiled jab at Amazon's Kindle Fire, far and away the most successful Android tablet thus far, and remarkable for its complete overhaul of Google's operating system, replacing the interface, store, and apps. Compared to a more vanilla version of the OS, the Fire brings fewer users and dollars to Google, since many of the apps and services have been replaced with Amazon-specific ones like the Kindle e-book reading app.
Despite the biggest budget-tablet success being something of an outlier, Page still sees the possibility of power and profit in these lower-cost devices, and said that "it's an area we're quite focused on."
This is only the latest in a series of hints that Google is planning on putting out a tablet of its own, probably with its own "Nexus" branding, to compete and help redirect the Android tablet market. The first real news was in December, when Google's Eric Schmidt let slip that such a project was underway and would probably deliver a product in the next six months.
More recently, sources said in March that Google was working with Asus and Samsung to produce the device, and that it would have a 7-inch screen and sell for somewhere between $149 and $249. Shortly afterwards, the Wall Street Journal reported that the tablet would be sold by Google directly to customers, a strategy that didn't work so well for their flagship Nexus One phone in 2010. For that device, Google ended up partnering with brick-and-mortar stores to better connect with customers.
Suppliers have suggested the Nexus tablet might appear as early as May. That fits well with Schmidt's estimate in December, but it's also possible Google will announce the device in late June during its I/O developer conference.