One of the cool things about the mobile technology sector is its massive scale, and the sheer volume of tech news that flows daily as a result. A lot of that is hard news, but some, inevitably, is the less-firm stuff: leaks, renders, rumors, and so on. As a whole, the tech media does a fairly good job of separating the wheat from the chaff, but sometimes fakes are so good -or so alluring- that they slip by. Such was the case with the rumored Sony Nexus X smartphone “leaked” a few weeks back, a rainbow-unicorn of a device which, like so many of its ilk, ultimately proved too good to be true.
For me, the more interesting element to the Nexus X flap was the role it played in a much juicier rumor: namely, that of Google’s supposed plan to flood the market with multiple Nexus smartphones from several manufacturers. This latter rumor was a persistent and long-lived one, and the leaked images of Sony’s nonexistent device only served to fan the flames. We wrote several editorials on Google’s possible new strategy, asking where all the additional leaks were if the rumor were true, and expressing concern for the brand if it did indeed come to pass.
When the time for Google’s big announcement rolled around, we did indeed see multiple new devices– but only one of them was a smartphone. The other two additions to the Nexus family both turned out to be tablets, one a refresh of Asus’ existing seven-incher, the other a full-size deluxe edition from Samsung. Carrying the “pure-Google” smartphone family forward was a solo device from LG, the Nexus 4.
Like any good group of tech geeks, the Pocketnow family was equal parts saddened and relieved at the news that no Google-phone onslaught was forthcoming. Here’s a few reasons why, told from each side of the Nexus divide.
Why it Would Have Been Awesome
The new Nexus phone looks to be quite a capable device. Despite its strong physical similarity to the Galaxy Nexus and our initial reluctance to take an LG device seriously, we eventually decided that we were pretty stoked about the Nexus 4.
But that acceptance comes, as always, with a caveat. The Nexus 4, like all smartphones, has its failings. The aforementioned physical appearance, though refined, is very similar to -and in some ways less exciting than- that of the Galaxy Nexus. The device is encased almost entirely in a glass shell, making it more prone to cracks than phones of sturdier construction. Perhaps most damning, if only for those in American markets, is the Nexus 4′s radio loadout, which omits LTE capability.
While not all of these slights will annoy everyone -indeed, the Nexus 4 may be the perfect device for many- there’s plenty here not to like. That’s the case with every major smartphone release, and it’s a handicap that would have been sidestepped by the rumored shotgun blast of Nexus phones from several manufacturers. In this alternate, more-awesome world, we’d be able to choose between Kevlar-coated phones from Motorola, polycarbonate beauties from HTC, and quad-core hyperglazed powerhouses from Samsung. We’d have a choice between 4.3-inch SLCD and 4.8-inch S-AMOLED displays, between 8-, 13-, and 16-megapixel cameras. Maybe one of them would pack a physical keyboard. Perhaps another would feature waterproof construction. LTE would be an option on at least one.
Instead, back in reality, we get one phone. That’s just as it’s always been in the Nexus program– with all the ups and downs that entails. So we miss out on the joy that comes with the sheer spectrum of choice multiple handsets would provide.
But that’s not without its up-side. There are just as many reasons …
Why It Would Have Been Asinine
It’s not all honeycombs and cherry candies over in the alternate universe, where Nexus phones of every stripe fall from tree branches and red lines painted on the ground tell us where to walk to avoid a mysterious death. The principal problem with the “many simultaneous devices” idea is something we’re very familiar with in another context: that of brand dilution.
The most visible modern example of brand dilution in the mobile world is Samsung’s Galaxy line. Formerly the prestigious sub-brand that signified high-end Android smartphones, today the Galaxy family is a hopeless morass spanning products at every quality level, across every category. As I wrote last month:
The Galaxy brand … hasn’t blanketed the entirety of Samsung’s Android lineup, but it’s certainly not confined to the high end anymore. There’s even confusion at the samsung.com/galaxy homepage, whose 163 listed phones are a mix of devices both Galaxy-branded and not. And that’s not even taking into account the tablet situation. Oh, and there’s now a media player thrown into the mix, as well as a camera. It’s a mess …
In a world full of mega-brands, sub-brands, and hybrid brands, confusion is the enemy. In the competition-on-steroids environment of mobile technology, it can be fatal.
As Joe Levi points out, the same thing would very likely have befallen the Nexus brand, had Google taken the many-manufacturers approach. Instead of the clean and logical marketing message that now pervades the Google Play hardware store -”best of Google, now in three sizes”- the company would have been forced to market, sell, and support a much more complex product portfolio. And all of it would have borne the Nexus name, watering down the brand’s intended message. How authentic, after all, can a “pure Google experience” be if it’s spanning five different smartphones, all with their own competing specifications, strengths and weaknesses? Choice is a good thing, but it can easily undermine the cohesion that makes a good brand work, in which case it should be avoided.
Mix that in with post-sale product support -historically a weak spot for Google’s Nexus line- and the speed bumps that come with incorporating compatibility for LTE/CDMA networks and other special considerations, and you come away with the impression of a disjointed device family. The antithesis of a unified product line. Android fragmentation in the very court of the home castle.
That’s not a winning recipe for success. That’s riding a brand into the ground on the back of shortsighted single-mindedness. And it’s why, despite our ever-present technolust, we’re glad Google is only launching one Nexus smartphone this time around.
iDevice photo source: iLounge