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Nexus 7: Is Google’s stripped-down tablet smart, or just humble?

If you're a tech company, now's the time to roll out a tablet. Google--slipstreaming behind Microsoft, which last week launched the Surface--is this Wednesday expected to unveil its Nexus 7 tablet. Rumours say the Nexus is a low- to mid-range device, targeted more at the rustic Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook than the top-of-range iPad and Surface. (The titular 7--seven inches--is a nod to the size of the screen).

Google is no stranger to the tablet space. Its Android operating system powers the Samsung's popular Galaxy Tab and the Asus Transformer, among others. With the Nexus 7, however, Google is sidestepping partners and selling straight to the consumer, a strategy it tried three years ago, with the Nexus One smartphone. Though a critical hit--it earned rave reviews in iPhone comparisons--the phone was a foul ball with consumers, selling just 135,000 units in its first 10 weeks, far short of the million-plus opening sales of each successive iPhone.

Did the search behemoth learn its lesson? Google is steering clear of Apple's orbit this time around. Instead of competing with the iPad's wizardry, the Nexus 7 takes a page out of the Nintendo Wii book, skewing simple. The device forgoes a rear-facing camera (i.e., no video recording or photography) and both 3G and 4G wireless. Where the Nexus hopes to have flashier tablets beat is on price--the Nexus 8 GB and 16 GB is anticipated to sell for US$200-US$250.

Clearly, Google is betting that as tablet sales climb, its market toehold is the entry level , a segment forsaken by Apple, Microsoft and Samsung. And while rumors persist about a US$250 iPad Mini dropping before Christmas, at present Amazon and Barnes & Noble are Google's only competition for tablet seekers looking to get in cheap.

As Microsoft's Surface did, Google's move into tablets disrupts longstanding industry alliances. Samsung and HTC have grown used to Google as a partner, not a competitor. Whether they remain friends or become enemies likely depends on early sales, and how aggressively Google seeks to dominate the market.

The Nexus 7 is expected to hit stores shortly after the Wednesday reveal; some insiders anticipate seeing them in Google Play Stores by mid-July. No word yet on when the Canadian roll out is.