This time last year, both Samsung’s and HTC’s flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S 4 and One, respectively, were the two phones most of us were eyeing as our next smartphones.
The Galaxy S 4 was the least attractive of the pair, but it was packed to the brim with features, for better or worse. The premise of the multiple award-winning HTC One was more soulful and rootsy. As such, while the One had the same specifications, give or take, it had fewer features and seemingly less value, but a markedly better design and build quality.
Naturally, this rivalry between Samsung and HTC, paired with the die-hard fans of each created a great divide. No matter which side of the equation you’re on, though, there is something most can agree on. Some of the most exciting news bits of last year came shortly after the launch of the HTC One and Galaxy S 4 here in the States.
Google’s former VP of Android Product Management, Hugo Barra, took the stage at the Google I/O developers conference in the middle of May last year to talk Google Play and, of course, devices. Seeing Barra’s face on stage usually meant new hardware. But what he pulled out of his pocket was not the second-generation Nexus 7 or new Nexus handset we were expecting – not at all. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Hugo Barra announced a Samsung device we’d already seen and used, except this version of the exact same phone would be running pure Android – something we’d been begging OEMs for since the very first Nexus One went on sale.
And that was the beginning of Google Play edition devices.
At the time, no one was certain if it would be a one time thing – a test run of sorts – or if other manufacturers would join the fold. Questions abounded. Who else? Which devices would we see running an official version of purely stock Android?
Shortly thereafter, HTC announced its flagship, too, would be part of the Google Play edition offerings. And ever since, LG, Motorola, and Sony have joined ranks, with the G Pad 8.3, Moto G, and Z Ultra, respectively, in Google Play edition form. These devices are sold only through Google’s online store, unlocked, at full price. Not to mention, these devices are only available for purchase within the US, a country which is only recently beginning to break from the subsidy model and wrapping its proverbial mind around the thought of purchasing phones at full price in favor of cheaper monthly service.
As you would imagine, these devices were never meant to be marketed to a broad consumer base, but instead those who want to taste the visceral experience offered by stock Android, as Google intended it to be. As such, the Google Play edition phones aren’t likely cash cows for … anyone involved.
Now, with the Galaxy S 5 being official and the new HTC One (M8) just days from being announced, we’re looking to Samsung and HTC in hopes they might once again grace us with Google Play edition smartphones. The question is, will they? Both companies have done it once and probably learned that Google Play edition devices aren’t about making a quick buck. Do they feel it was beneficial in any way? Can HTC, specifically, afford to continue working on tangents like this while its revenue continues to plummet?
Truthfully, we can’t make too many assumptions about the process. We don’t know the inner workings of the Google Play edition program. For all we know, Google could be incentivizing manufacturers to bring its best devices forward in a pure Google form. (That theory would align quite well with its slapping of Samsung’s wrists for deviating too far from the core Android experience.)
Either way, financially, I can’t imagine Google Play edition devices make a lot of sense for either Google or the OEMs. It’s more of a “Why not?” situation, since it’s the exact same hardware the companies are already manufacturing. And the OEMs are going to alter the AOSP source to work on their devices anyway. So … why not provide another option?
None of this answers whether Samsung or HTC (or Sony, for that matter) will jump on the Google Play edition bandwagon again. But I do know there are a lot of people who want them to.
Holes. Time. Colors. Also, like its predecessor, look for M8 to arrive as a Google Play Edition. pic.twitter.com/HtklHp2GP1
— @evleaks (@evleaks) March 8, 2014
If we’re to believe word from master leaker evleaks, at the very least, the M8 will arrive in GPe fashion. But I presume we’ll see the Galaxy S 5 also manifest as a Google Play edition device. The more important question is, when?
Last year, the Google Play edition devices weren’t announced until about a month after the original models launched, and the GPe handsets didn’t launch until summer 2013. In other words, many potential buyers had already purchased TouchWiz and Sense equipped versions of the hardware without knowing Google would launch those very devices running stock software.
Why is this relevant?
I’m eyeing the all new HTC One as my next phone, provided HTC has resolved its long-standing battery life issues (and the godawful charge time of the original One). As much of an improvement over past versions of Sense the latest version of software appears to be, at the end of the day, it’s still Sense. Chances are, I’ll probably still prefer stock Android. It’s always been my preference anyway. It’s lightweight, faster, and cleaner.
And, yes, even if HTC releases the GPe M8 just weeks after I cave and buy the all new HTC One, there’s a high chance I could just unofficially convert it to one, considering it’s the same hardware. But the Google Play edition phones are carrier unlocked by default, the bootloaders are easier to unlock, and it’s just a more friendly device to deal with.
If HTC or Samsung are going to launch Google Play editions of their 2014 flagships, they might as well announce them sooner rather than later.
If I had to guess, though, we won’t see either device before Google I/O, which is taking place at the end of June. Why? They’ll likely ship alongside a newer version of Android, of course. Which is fine.
All I’m looking for is confirmation that they will someday exist, so I don’t hold out on buying a carrier branded One for no reason.
What about you, ladies and gents? Will you be picking up a Google Play edition of your preferred flagship smartphone this year? Or do you prefer the devices as their individual manufacturers intended?