We don't need Nexus phones any more
16th May 2013 | 15:14
If Google can get Samsung, it can scrap its handset project
With the launch of the stripped down Samsung Galaxy S4, Google can finally give up on Nexus phones.
Before the Google Nexus 4 came along, I was always baffled by the Nexus project given the search giant was always just trying to make sure its Android system was as widely used as possible. The Nexus One was proclaimed as the reason Android smartphones went mainstream, but it was really just a re-tooled HTC Desire.
And that phone, the one that took HTC to its highest standing in the phone industry, was a much better phone: it got rid of the pointless trackball and made everything a lot simpler.
The same with the Google Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus - both good phones, but expensive and obliterated in terms of sales by the Galaxy S and S2, which were the more mainstream variants. And why continue with Nexus devices at all now Google is on three in every four smartphones?
It should have ended years ago
What's most interesting is what Eric Schmidt said in 2010: ""The idea was to do the Nexus One to move the phone platform hardware business forward. It clearly did.
"It was so successful, we didn't have to do a second one. I called up the board and said: 'OK, it worked. Congratulations - we're stopping'."
Of course, this was just before it launched another Nexus phone, but Google has always been in and out of love with making its own hardware devices - and this move with Samsung hints that it would prefer to just make a vanilla version of the decent hardware that's being spewed onto the market.
There's a (relatively small) band of users that adore stock Android - when I heard about the move, the first thing we did was see if HTC was going to do the same thing to combine the best hardware and untainted software, but it confirmed it had no plans to do so, showing that Google isn't being picky about which phone its software is used on.
We don't need Nexus phones any more - the hardware race is such that whatever Google specs out is bettered within a month, and subsidising the phones costs money and brand reputation for whoever makes them. Remember the flak LG came under for hawking the Nexus 4 at full price in other territories?
Move on, Moto
And that's perhaps another reason why Google isn't so set on making a new Nexus phone: it's constantly been at loggerheads with the biggest manufacturers over skins (the user interface that each manufacturer plops on top of basic Android to add in its own services), but now it has Motorola in-house it can concentrate on making awesome Android phones of its own.
The X Phone is a long time coming, but it's still got the interest of a lot of the industry.
Google's most successful Nexus devices are the most recent: the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7. The reason? Both have excellent hardware and a rock-bottom price thanks to heavy subsidies from Google.
The Nexus 4 is a relatively average phone in some ways, but has two USPs: it's half the price of its competitors and it runs stock Android. That's a model that makes a big statement for Google: this is the hardware we want, and this is how good our services can be.
In the phone world, there's now plenty of choice to prove that; in the tablet arena there's more of a dearth, which is why it's likely Google will keep plugging away with awesomely cheap tablets.
I'm not a fan of the vanilla Google experience - I think it's too basic, and the "magic" of reviewing phones is in finding out where the companies are providing innovation. But while I'm surprised Samsung agreed to do the clean version of its phone, I'm happy that it did: the S4 has so much innovation, it's in danger of making things too complex for users.
Google doesn't need Nexus phones - the hardware to make the best use of Android is already out there. If it can convince more brands to do what Samsung is doing, then it's got everything it set out for in the first place. We all know this Android-only version of the S4 will sell a fraction of the standard model, so Samsung doesn't need to worry there.
By all means, keep making tablets - there aren't enough decent devices out there. But there's no win to be had in competing in the phone world, so Google should just concentrate on poking Android onto every phone, car, fridge and lightbulb... although I would totally buy the Nexus microwave.