The Nexus 7 Is Hiding Google’s Stroke Of Genius

The biggest downside to Apple devices? They’re anti-social: locked to one user and non-fungible. Google’s new Nexus tablet supports real user profiles, allowing them to act like user-agnostic terminals.

Android tablets have never quite grabbed us. While occasionally smaller Android devices come close to competing with the iPhone—in terms of build quality, data entry, ease of use—rarely has an tablet approached the iPad in any metric.

Google’s new Nexus 7 is no different—a homely glass and plastic slate without any salient features to brag about. But there’s one notable exception: Jellybean 4.3-supported refined user profiles. So what does that mean?

Android 4.2 introduced the concept of user profiles in Android, meaning the OS allowed different users to sign into their account on a shared tablet, segregating data from the other users. That’s a big win for families sharing a single tablet. With 4.3, user profiles were refined to add restrictions: now, only certain apps are available and connected to a given Google account, meaning that each user who signs into that tablet sees a different selection of apps.

This feature is, at present, one of the only major differentiators between Apple and Android devices—at least one of the only features where Android wins. For families with kids, people who entertain guests, or in enterprise environments, being able to completely switch users makes tablet usage economical.

But more importantly, it showcases a different philosophy toward Internet accessibility. Apple prefers a deeply personalized paradigm, where you cherish your One Device—going so far as to pick its color, in the case of the iPod Touch—and it remains locked to you and your data. Android devices seem to be moving toward a user-agnostic, kiosk-like model where anyone can sign into an Android device and have it become theirs. (The Chromebook Pixel works this way as well.)

The device still identifies an "owner," and that person does get special privileges. By default, restricted users don't get access to the owner’s Gmail, calendar, Play Store, or in-app purchases, and owners get to decide whether the apps will have access to location data. This make it much easier and quicker to hand the tablet over to a child.

Version 4.3 also brings more controls for developers and allows them to put a fine level of detail on which controls can be restricted in their apps. The Android Dev.Bytes video introducing the new feature touches on the different ways developers can implement the restricted profiles setting in their apps. With only a few lines of code, developers can get the OS to recognize restricted profiles readiness and with not too much more code, apps can be ready to take advantage of all aspects.

Compared to Windows 8/RT and now Android 4.3, Apple and iOS are the odd man out when it comes to user profiles and being able to easily share a tablet, keeping personal data private. Though iOS's restriction settings and parental controls are appealing, any parent looking for a tablet to be easily handed off to their child may want to seriously consider the new Nexus 7 for the restricted user profiles feature in particular.

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  • John Wynn

    Does anyone know to share music across profiles on Nexus 7 running KitKat? Please notice I am asking for instructions on how to "share", not on how to duplicate. Thank you.

  • Clif H

    Tyler, have you tried actually using user profiles on a version 1 Nexus 7? Same issue as background app updates - the entire system grinds to a halt while memory management scrambles to handle a task beyond its capabilities. On the contrary, quite glad Apple takes their time in adding newer capabilities like these. Like they did with background updates, the actual implementation of new features are handled in a manner that respects the actual usability of the device over innovating for innovations sake. Like my N7 as the cheap e-reader/ basic email / game player that it is, but it's no iPad. 

  • Billy_Bob77

    "without any salient features to brag about."  Really?  It's comments like this that damage the credibility of anything else you say.  We could start with a pixel-per-inch density of 323 , which gives the N7 a display with a resolution even higher than the Retina display on the iPad.  Even CNET touts the fact that the N7 caught Apple napping.


  • Rob Cooper

    Twice the author used the phrase "one of the only". It's a lazy construct that's so inexact as to be meaningless. How many is "only"?

  • SDyson

    I've only visited this place once or twice and on the strength of this review it will be my last. Each of the the various technologies have their merits but to be so one sided ... seems a little blinkered. Clearly Apple also disagree with you hence their introduction of the mini some time back ... I personally don't care for Apple products myself but I do have the ability to write a fair unbiased review.

  • Frank Ramirez

    Providing a user profile may shield data for an individual from other users but it is also providing more detailed and structured access to your information to Google. That is not my idea of privacy. Indeed it seems to be quite the opposite. . http://www.linkedin.com/in/fra...

  • Rahul Krishnan

    Seems like this article is written by an Apple fanatic who just wanted to get some attention by talking about the popular NEXUS devices... Multi User Profile is not just the beauty of Android 4.3... Apple devices such as Mini or even the latest iPad restricts the user to exploit the device to its max extent while Android does not... The cost factor gives the Nexus 7 a WOW.! for whats underneath... It has a powerful hardware spec that never says no to anything you throw at it... I am not comparing Apple vs Android but I wont agree when you say Android wins only in the Multi User Profile feature.!

    I CHOSE NEXUS 10 over the latest iPad..! Latest android updates, excellent hardware specs to play all my games and 1080p movies, a beautiful music player, neat camera app, support for all kinds of video/audio formats, USB support(stickmount), EXCELLENT BATTERY LIFE..! I AM A HAPPY NEXUS USER..!


    The only reason Apple has not included the sharing feature is maximization of profit!
    Being a pioneer in this class of product, the knew more profit will come their way using '1 iPad 1 User'  model. Google/Nexus would probably have done the same thing, given the same scenario!
    Watch out for a variant of iPad with multi-user feature very soon. Its the way to go now that tablet market is nearing saturation. 

  • Scott Curtis

    iOS is superior to Android in one and only one way (variety of apps) and that advantage is fading fast.  Android is a vastly more powerful operating system integrated with Google's increasingly robust array of cloud services.  Apple's cloud services are HORRENDOUS and nearly useless by comparison.  Android is a real operating system that supports real file structures.  Ever try to download a file from DropBox onto an iPad so you can attach it to an e-mail?  Good luck if it is not a song, a photo or something else associated with an iPad app.  iOS is an operating system designed for toddlers.  Some grown-ups have to do real work and that's where iOS falls flat, sometimes critically.

  • Robert Nasiadek

    Wow. What a biased, fanboish article. And I thought you guys were a good source for news.

  • JWilcox

    Stroke of genius?   Remembering how to do something computers have been doing for decades?  meh... 

  • Tom G

    I actually think the original Nexus 7 was better than the iPad Mini, although the larger Android Tabs still aren't a nice to use as an iPad, hardware specs be damned.  User profiles is an advantage for Android 4.3, for now, but Apple announced that they will bring such profiles to iOS 7, so it will be a short-lived advantage.

  • B_W

    In what world has "rarely has an {Android} tablet approached the iPad in any metric"? The *old* Nexus 7 had twice the RAM, a 4 core that ran 20% faster than Apple's Dual Core and had a 40% higher PPI as the Mini.  Oh, and at 32GB, the Nexus 7 was $250 vs. the Mini's $430.  I'm certainly not saying the 7 was perfect, but it sure beat the Mini on, well, every metric.