Death of the Nexus: why Google shouldn’t kill its developer brand
Google’s in-house Nexus brand of affordable developer smartphones has garnered a small, dedicated group of enthusiasts since the first handset, the HTC-made Nexus One, launched in early 2010. Since then, Google has partnered with Samsung and LG two times each to make the Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, and Nexus 5, all of which have been fan favorite Android handsets each year.
The venture was never about making money or inflating profits. Instead, it was about sticking it to the U.S. wireless providers and letting consumers choose their phone first, then choose a provider – something which, at the time, was rather uncommon here in the States. It later blossomed into an effort to encourage and harness the power of a third-party developer community and to show other partner manufacturers how Google itself envisioned Android, both in hardware and in software.
In other words, each year, Nexus was reference hardware for new versions of software and a peek into what Android should be from its very own creator.
This created a die-hard, purist following, a brand of consumer who strictly adheres to the Google experience and denies the customizations made by Samsung, HTC, LG, and all other manufacturers. It’s not just about the Google experience, though. Nexus devices have always come with the promise of rapid updates, direct from Google instead carriers – that is, unless you owned a CDMA Galaxy Nexus, which arguably wasn’t a Nexus at all.
Nexus smartphones, for all intents and purposes, were the most rapidly and consistently updated Android devices. To this day, they still are, but nowadays there are some handsets which aren’t far behind.
After a few Nexus handsets launched, one new Nexus per year simply wasn’t enough. Some consumers didn’t like the hardware and many simply wanted a pure stock Google experience on more familiar hardware, like Samsung’s or HTC’s annual flagships.
Last year, we were introduced to an entirely new concept, one many had been begging for since the beginning of Nexus: Google Play edition hardware. Samsung and HTC were the first to jump on the Google Play edition bandwagon, followed by LG, Sony, and Motorola. For some, it was the best of both worlds – unaltered hardware and unadulterated Google software.
The birth of Google Play edition devices and the popularity of the stock Android idea, however, may have come at the cost of the Nexus brand altogether.
What if there were no more Nexus devices?
Rumors that this year will not yield another Nexus have surfaced, that the alleged new program, Android Silver, will replace the Nexus lineup. For what it’s worth, just as many rumors pointing to new Nexus hardware continue to make headlines. But the idea of the death of Nexus has shook the foundation of many Nexus die-hards more than once.
Right now, there is no hard evidence to confirm either side of the argument, but there are compelling arguments which could support either cause. Chances are, we’ll know which side of the story is true later this week. But for just a moment, let’s assume Nexus handsets are no more.
Assume Google will kill the Nexus brand. What then?
A giant “L” for everyone
Let’s not dabble around the idea. If Nexus were no more, consumers, developers, and Google would all lose something.
Consumers lose a choice in great value. Take a look at the rest of the landscape. For general consumers, especially since the Nexus 4, the Nexus brand hasn’t been about much else than value and the pure software. It doesn’t matter how many Nexus phones sold, but rather who is buying them – people looking for a killer deal. Arguably, as great as the Moto G and Moto X were, or as great an offer as the OnePlus One is, the Nexus 5 is still the best deal around. It’s the best collection of specifications, performance, user experience you can get for around $350. (The OnePlus One hardly counts, considering how difficult it is to get your hands on one.)
Not to mention, the Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 were both steals at the time of their launch. In fact, the Nexus 4 was still a great deal at the end of its life and at the birth of the Nexus 5. Both Nexus 7 have been considered the best value in a small tablet to date. If you were to ask me which small Android tablet you should buy, nine times out of 10, I’m going to recommend the Nexus 7. It’s reliable, powerful, and cheap.
Developers lose a direct connection to Google. Many developers still opt for devices like the Google Play edition HTC One M8 or Galaxy S5 over the older Nexus 5. But don’t be fooled by the meek Nexus 5; it and its predecessors shaped the Android experience we know and love today. Its hardware influenced much of the Android hardware we see today. Without Google’s hand in the pot, developers will no longer have that direct connection to Google and will instead get a slightly diluted, slightly altered version of Android – not Android exactly how Google envisioned it, a perfect pairing of hardware and software.
Google loses its tight-knit connection with developers. Microsoft, BlackBerry, and practically all other companies fighting tooth and nail for market and mind share are digging deep and incentivizing developers to create for their respective platforms. Google’s development community is already established. Killing Nexus, for some, could be perceived as an act of how little Google cares about its community. That may not be the actual case, but it would certainly make more sense for Google to do anything and everything to keep its third-party developers happy to be developing for its platform. Killing Nexus would not be in Google’s best interest, it would seem.
Android Silver may not have legs
We still don’t know the whole Android Silver story. Maybe it’s just a white glove rebranding of Nexus. Maybe it something new entirely. Either way, I’m willing to bet it won’t have quite the legs Nexus has had.
To date, Nexus smartphones have fought obsolescence far better than any other Android handsets. Half of that battle was fought with value. With little money invested, you don’t feel like you’re losing or missing out when newer hardware comes out. Another major reason is how current the software is. The devices are constantly updated. If Android Silver replaces either Google Play edition or Nexus, software updates won’t be a problem. The real question is, will Android Silver devices age as well as Nexus phones do?
Google Play edition HTC Ones and Galaxy S handsets age just as quickly as their normal non-GPe counterparts. The Nexus 5, on the other hand, hasn’t aged so quickly. It will maintain its great value status well into the winter of this year.
Without a device dedicated solely to Google’s cause, I can’t imagine it will have quite the long life Nexus smartphones and tablets have had.
Android Silver and Nexus should coexist
I’d be lying if I said I truly understood what’s happening right now with this Google shake-up. Rumors and fanatics around the Web may be blowing this whole thing out of proportion. But I can tell you what I hope happens later this week.
More recent render leaks of an HTC-made Nexus 9 force me to believe Nexus isn’t going anywhere. I hope this is the case as I’ve been a die-hard Nexus fan since day one. But I also like the idea of Android Silver – the ability to get most high-end flagships running a stock build of Android. There’s no reason Nexus and Android Silver shouldn’t exist side by side. It makes much more sense for Google to allow Android Silver to swallow Google Play edition hardware and continue selling its reference hardware on the cheap.
How do you feel about the potential death of Nexus smartphones, readers? Is Nexus here to stay? Or will Android Silver swallow all the other pure stock Android handsets? We should find out later this week, but feel free to speculate in the comments section until then!