By Stephen Schenck | November 7, 2012 7:06 AM
For as long as Google’s been releasing Nexus models, I’ve liked the idea of what it was doing. It didn’t see the need to sell a whole slew of similar devices under its name, potentially competing with other Android manufacturers, and it wasn’t constantly trying to one-up itself in order to have the “best” Android out there. Instead, it seemed almost like the Nexus name was more of a ceremonial title, awarded to the hardware that embodied the Android ideal. A lot’s changed since the days of the Nexus One, and even the Nexus S, and while the Nexus series of products has become a lot more complicated, I don’t find myself hating what it’s become. In a lot of ways, I see reflections of Apple’s iOS lineup in the current Nexus family, and the more I think about it, the more I like how it’s turned out.
Right from the start, Apple was all about releasing a family of iOS (then iPhone OS) products. For the first couple years, membership in that group was pretty exclusive, featuring only the various iPhone and iPod touch models. In 2010 we started seeing things really take off, and since then there’s been a surge of growth: first we got the iPad, followed by the iOS-based second-gen Apple TV, and now we see the iPad mini arrive.
In Android-land, though, it was lone wolf territory for years. While we’d get an all-new smartphone every year or so, there weren’t any WiFi-only versions to be sold at a reduced price, and while the Motorola Xoom still got Google’s special software attention, it never felt like part of the family proper.
Now, all of a sudden, Google’s been taking steps to really flesh-out its Nexus lineup. Sure, we haven’t seen those rumors come true that we’d be getting several Nexus phones, arriving all around the same time, and all coming from different manufacturers (which is arguably a very good thing that we haven’t), but in the last six months Google really started putting on some shades of Apple.
I can’t say if it was intentional or not, but the Nexus family is nearly a mirror image of Apple’s iOS clan. Google pulled the Nexus Q out of nowhere, becoming its version of Apple TV (at least before Google unceremoniously killed-off the Q), and while Google’s tablets arrived out-of-order compared to Apple’s, comparisons between the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini, as well as the Nexus 10 and the iPad 4, are hard to avoid. Sure, Google doesn’t have a direct iPod touch equivalent, but with the Nexus 4 selling for the same price as the iPod touch, and with no requirement for cellular service, it can essentially fill the shoes of both that as well as the iPhone 5.
For a guy who was just singing the praises of how simple the Nexus program used to be, shouldn’t I be more uncomfortable with what it’s become?
There’s still a certain balance to things with Nexus; Google doesn’t complicate things by having a top-shelf Nexus smartphone, a budget-priced Nexus, and a Nexus phablet. In the past, I’ve criticized Apple for not having enough variety like this in its iOS lineup, but thinking about it now I can appreciate the desire for simplicity. Of course, these are two very different beasts we’re talking about, and while Android users can turn to any number of manufacturers to find the non-Nexus device they want, Apple fans aren’t so lucky.
What even this larger Nexus family does well is introduce users to what’s possible with Android. It doesn’t need to reflect every hardware variation under the sun, nor does it need to offer devices that are going to make everyone happy. Just like a car dealership won’t have models featuring every single color and hardware option available under its roof, it can still put forth a good show of giving customers a sense of just what’s possible.
Ultimately, I think Google has taken the iOS family and turned it into something even better. It really is like a showroom now; Nexus isn’t everything Android has to offer by a long shot, but it hits all the big notes, and leaves you with a more refined idea of just what you need to look for in a smartphone or tablet.