Since early 2010 there have been three Nexus phones and a tablet released to the market. HTC built the Nexus One, Samsung the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, and Asus the Nexus 7. These projects were all overseen by Google directly, ensuring true compatibility with “true” Android.
And this “true” Android business has been an important and incessant topic of discussion this past year, as more manufacturers fall behind on their promises to update their phones to Ice Cream Sandwich and, more recently, Jelly Bean.
So what would it mean if Google were to open up the Nexus brand to anyone? If LG, HTC, Samsung, Sony — heck, even ZTE — wanted to build a Nexus device, without the direct oversight of Big Brother Google? It’s an interesting proposition, and one that bears consideration.
There’s a rumour going around that Google is about to do just that: open up the Nexus brand to anyone, as long as they follow stringent hardware guidelines, and, of course, include stock Android on the device. This policy could be why we’ve heard about so many Nexus devices this year, from HTC, Samsung and LG. Of course, Google would have to work with these OEMs to adapt its software to the hardware, but at its core this project is sounding a bit like how Microsoft administrates its Windows Phone program.
We underestimate how much manufacturers tinker with Android; what we saw of TouchWIZ, or Sense, or Optimus UI, is not just a superficial sprucing of a few Android icons and menus. In many cases it’s a full reworking of how the software functions. We see this most recently in Samsung’s Nature UX, which bears so little a resemblance to stock Android you could be forgiven for thinking it was something completely different.
It’s in Google’s interest to create a unified brand around Nexus, one that they have a modicum of control over, before Android runs away with itself. In many ways, Android is no longer Google’s baby, it’s Samsung’s — or Amazon’s. Google creates the code, but Samsung sells the devices. Expanding the Nexus brand to be synonymous with Google, and by association Android, will do all kinds of good for the ecosystem, and perhaps dispel some of the talk of fragmentation. If users were better informed, the analysts say, they would make better decisions. They would be reticent to purchase devices that would be left unsupported after a year; they’d be wary of claims of OEM superiority. They’d trust the Nexus brand to offer a consistent Android experience, one of which Google approves.
I see a lot of Galaxy Nexus devices floating around Canada. I often wonder if they know what they have in the Nexus brand, that it stands for OTA software updates and the stock Android experience. I wonder if people care. But if Google does indeed go ahead with this new Nexus program, and offers up the brand to anyone who wants to abide by a few regulations, I don’t see how that could hurt the industry.
Apparently this new LG Nexus device will be dubbed the “LG Optimus G Nexus,” a terrible name, and will be introduced in November, not the end of the month. These are all rumours, but we’ve heard enough about multiple Nexus devices in 2012 to believe that something is up. If Google can pull this off, we’ll all be better off.