By Stephen Schenck | July 20, 2012 5:39 PM
When Google introduces a new Nexus-series device, we know we’ll have a fresh Android revision to play with, along with all the new features and improvements that arrive with such a release, but that’s only a part of what makes Nexus models so captivating. Google’s been taking full advantage of the high-profile spot these devices take to draw attention to new hardware, which we often see subsequently adopted by manufacturers all across the Android spectrum. You can call it Google leading the direction the market’s heading, or just acting as inspiration, but there’s no doubt that its Nexus hardware often serves as a trend-setter. With the Nexus 7 now a reality, our thoughts are already turning to the next Nexus device (the Nextus?), and we find ourselves asking, “just what might Google be planning for its future Nexus hardware?”
Taking Stock: Past Nexus Models
For starters, let’s look at what Google’s accomplished with its Nexus devices so far. The HTC-made Nexus One was bound to hold a special place in the Android history books, solely by nature of being the first smartphone of its kind. With the phone’s release, Google set the bar for the level of software support we’d continue to see with the rest of its Nexus lineup, featuring font-line exposure to the latest Android releases often weeks, if not months, before any other phones receive similar manufacturer support.
As for the Nexus One hardware itself, it may not have been host to so many brand-new features, but it highlighted a few key manufacturing choices that were just then becoming more and more important. It featured an early AMOLED screen, exposing users to the kind of great contrast such components offer. There was also a big focus on reducing handset thickness. It’s easy to forget just how chunky some early Androids were, and measuring-in at over half an inch thick was pretty par for the course; the Nexus One slimmed things down to just under 12 millimeters, and things have only been shrinking since.
Switching manufacturing partners to Samsung, Google continued this trend with the Nexus S in late 2010. The handset was one of the first smartphones around to support NFC (a feature we’re still waiting to see widespread acceptance). It highlighted the importance of ergonomics with its Contour Display curved screen, and was an early example of the move manufacturers have been making away from microSD support.
The Motorola Xoom has special relevance as the first Honeycomb tablet, and while it continues to get Nexus-level software support, as a non-Nexus device, it’s a bit outside the scope we’re dealing with here.
The Galaxy Nexus introduced many of us to 720p displays on phones, and invited manufacturers to do away with hardware Android buttons on their handsets, in favor of on-screen software controls. More recently, the Nexus 7 gave us a similar example of Google removing unneeded hardware, this time the rear camera. While that’s reportedly a cost-saving decision, rather than a pure design choice, it’s encouraging manufacturers to look past the status quo, and really think individually about just what features each device really needs.
In What Direction Is Google Steering Android’s Future?
Some of the things Google’s done, like axing hardware Android buttons, are the type of change that’s going to be hugely tricky to predict. On the other hand, there are some hardware innovations just coming to the forefront of smartphone design that Google could always grab and run with.
We’re going to be seeing 1080p screens in smartphones in the near future, and there’s still a lot of confusion regarding them. Largely, we’re just not sure how much use they’ll actually be, or if we’ll even be capable of readily appreciating the improved resolution. Maybe Google will adopt such a component for the next Nexus, and make a point to deliver it alongside software that finally convinces us of the value of such super-high-res displays.
Google hasn’t really used Nexus devices to push next-generation SoCs, and we’re not sure there’s any reason for it to start now. Chances are, we’ll be looking at a bit of a cool-down in the race for cores, with manufacturers settling on quad- or dual-core designs for now and focusing more on improving things like power consumption and execution efficiency.
What about RAM? The move to 2GB feels like it should have been a bigger deal than it was, and its recent arrival on a couple Androids (like the GS3) didn’t get much fanfare. By the time the next Nexus arrives, we’ll likely have seen even more phones debut with this kind of memory, but maybe Google can still find a way to make it special; that doesn’t necessarily mean adding even more RAM, but it could try something with higher speed, lower latency components, or introduce changes to Android that let it take advantage of such a glut of memory in more impressive ways.
Google may not see a need for a big camera on a tablet, but smartphones are another beast entirely; maybe Google will try to bring the kind of imaging quality we see on the Nokia PureView 808 to Android. Perhaps it could even try something a bit out-there, like pairing such a powerful image sensor with a standardized way to attach mini add-on lenses, extending the phone’s abilities as a camera even farther.
Then there’s the issue of just how the next Nexus will be made; we’ve heard rumors that Google might be planning to team up with multiple manufacturers for a series of Nexus models, all arriving at once. Would each one come up with their own take on a similar design, or would each focus on just a few key elements? Maybe LG would have the 1080p Nexus, and Sony would have the super-camera Nexus?
There are a ton of directions Google could take with its next phone. We could keep guessing up until the model’s actually revealed, and still never hit on just what the company’s been planning. Whatever it is, though, you can bet that the rest of the Android world will be watching closely, and be ready to follow Google’s lead.
Thanks: Pocketnow staff
Image: XDA-Developers forum