If you’ve been following the news yesterday, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of buzz about the future of a Nexus smartphone. As it turns out, LG doesn’t seem to be working on a Nexus 5 yet, and for those of us that have been following the smartphone industry for the last couple of years, one thing we know is that a new device can’t be designed, produced and shipped in just a couple of months before its possible launch in the fall. Now let’s be fair, LG stated that they’re not working on a “Nexus 5″ yet, and if the name of Google’s next smartphone isn’t Nexus 5, they wouldn’t necessarily be lying to us, right? We’re the ones that have dubbed it the Nexus 5 simply because it’s the number that follows after the current Nexus 4, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll actually be called that way.
Now assuming that LG is being true to the real meaning of the question, and they’re not in-charge of Google’s next smartphone, what can we conclude? Could it be that Google will now focus on launching their Google Editions of certain hot smartphones, or could it be that there’s another OEM in charge of the project this year? The answer is a tad complicated. The Nexus program has always been about challenging OEMs to do better, but Google has varied this strategy a lot lately.
If we went through the history of the Nexus program, we’d see three very different phases. In the first one Google decided to challenge the spec sheet with the Nexus One. At a time when Android launchers began becoming famous for their elegance and infamous for their sluggishness, the Nexus One was both a very beautiful phone made by HTC, and was also the most powerful Android smartphone of its time rocking the first 1GHz processor. It was amazingly thin and light, and it was also fast at running Android as it was intended, making it one of the best smartphones of its day. Things shifted with the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, where Google didn’t challenge the system, and simply decided to launch a unique variant of an already popular phone (Galaxy S and Galaxy S II respectively) with some design differences and stock Android. In the third phase, Google showed us that they learned a lot from their cheap Nexus 7 experiment, and decided to pose the same challenge to others by building a cheap and high-end smartphone with the Nexus 4. All of these were different approaches, but all similar in the fact that none of them made a significant dent in the market.
All that said, I doubt that there’s a company on this planet that would take the risk of building hardware and selling it at a loss. Whether the hardware is at a loss in order to sell software, there’s always money involved, and especially if this is a publicly traded company like Google where shareholders call the shots. Proof of this is Google’s approach this year where instead of building a smartphone and selling a few, they decided to customize the most popular one and just focus on the software. This may be simply another of their experiments to try to measure acceptance, but it’s also a way of saying that they don’t want to deal with hardware, or not just any hardware.
Not just any hardware is where I want to land. Let’s face it; a Google edition of the Galaxy S 4 without all the added Galaxy gimmicks is simply another plastic smartphone with better specs and stock Android. It does give users a fancier and more expensive choice, but it doesn’t challenge any system. If Google was still in the Andy Rubin days, I’d probably call this the end of the Nexus program, but with a Chromebook Pixel over the shoulders of Android’s current boss, I doubt that.
So think about it, if a Google edition of any smartphone is just different hardware running stock Android, it doesn’t really follow on the Nexus mentality of challenging anything, right? Google would have to pick an OEM that’s capable of challenging the rest of the OEMs at least in hardware, and the only company that we see capable of doing this today is HTC. Here’s why:
Not an HTC One Google edition, but another Google Nexus One made by HTC
Surely we’ve heard the rumors of Google and HTC working on a Google edition of the HTC One, but if these companies follow this path, I doubt the smartphone will sell much. A $650 price tag is quite steep for a smartphone, and if the only added value of this device is that it runs stock Android, I’d rather pay half that amount and stick to the LG Nexus 4.
That said, isn’t it such a coincidence that this year’s HTC One matches the original name of the first Nexus smartphone ever made? Imagine the following Nexus being a return of the Nexus One under the same mentality of challenging the spec sheet. At this time of the year, that’s actually quite possible. With Qualcomm’s push of the Snapdragon 800 processor later this year, and a design similar to that of the HTC One, Google would really challenge even the hottest Galaxy offering at the launch of this Nexus smartphone. The BoomSound design would also allow Google to match the Nexus 10 with its front-firing speaker design, and I’m sure we’ll also see that in the future version of the Nexus 7 as a standard well. Yes, it most likely won’t be a cheap smartphone, but the spec bump would justify a $650 price, instead of trying to charge that same money for an existing smartphone that’s about to become obsolete this fall.
A Nexus program has better chances of succeeding
I’ll admit that I was very exited about a Google edition of the Galaxy S 4. I’ve always dreamed of having a choice between buying a smartphone with the stock experience or the OEM experience. Sadly all that excitement came to a dramatic halt when I heard the price tag. At a time when you can get a Galaxy S 4 for $200 after the contract that most of you have, and with options like CyanogenMod 10.1, it’s hard to justify coughing $650 for a phone that already exists and that won’t be any better than it’s bloated fraternal twin. A cheaper price tag would’ve definitely made this approach smarter in my opinion, but that’s sadly not the case.
It makes a lot more sense to pay $650 for the fastest smartphone in the world. We’re always out for the most future-proof investment of our money, and whether Google sets the bar in specs or price tag, a differentiated Nexus program stands a better chance of survival than a basic Google edition.
The bottom line
So imagine for a second that Google and HTC are really working on a smartphone. The return of the Nexus One with a device made of aluminum, sporting the best display in the market, a good low-light camera, the fastest and most power-efficient processor in the world and stock Android. Would you buy it, or would you prefer to stock to what the OEM wants you to experience with their own customizations just because of the contract subsidies?
I would rather pay to have the best of the best, but I know your opinions might vary, so leave us a comment and share your thoughts on how you’d prefer the future Nexus to be like.