Google’s Nexus program has been going full speed ahead as of late. The company has been able to continue the high level of excellence that we have come to expect from it while making necessary adjustments to offer reasonably-priced hardware. Thanks to the implementation of their latest Nexus line, we finally have a concrete idea of Google’s overall goal with their own device line-up.
However, with the most recent releases, the role of the “Nexus” in the Android ecosystem has shifted slightly. Android is currently standing on its own two feet without the need for Google to rescue it with a new device every year. Thus, instead of aiming to alter the current market by steering other manufacturers in the right direction, the Nexus line is finally at a point where it is tailored to supplement an already healthy industry.
Google has a long-standing history of stepping in when the ecosystem needs them most. As history testifies with the Nexus One and Nexus S, this happens when the community has grown stagnant and unexciting. However, this wasn’t really the case with the latest Nexus releases. In fact, the Android ecosystem has been doing better than ever due to the flush of high quality devices.
The Nexus Hardware
The latest Nexus line-up, introduced towards the end of 2012, offered an incredibly competitive army of devices ready to take on nearly any competitor. Three devices constitute the new flagship models for the foreseeable future. While each of them is made by a different manufacturer, they are all essentially being marketed under the same umbrella.
To be more specific, the Nexus line is being marketed as one device with three different sizes, thanks to the unified Android experience. This is actually quite on purpose as Google wants users to view the Nexus line as a single entity, creating a bond between the user and the brand, and hopefully resulting in more sales.
Thanks to the release of the Nexus 7 and its popularity in the summer of 2012, Google had successfully pushed the Android tablet market in its coveted direction. The Nexus 10 came to further cement the image of Android tablets, putting the ecosystem at a spot where it can very easily compete with Apple, which is an accomplishment no other company has been able to come close to. While Android tablets are still struggling to impact Apple’s sales, the success has been more visible in terms of brand recognition and loyalty.
The Nexus 4, however, was an entirely different release. Thanks to a slew of worthy flagships in the Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC One X, and more, the Nexus 4 wasn’t really “needed” by the ecosystem and as a result, has had mediocre success. Another major aspect that attributed to the poor sales is the simple fact that the device has essentially been out of stock since the release with the exception of some brief windows. This continues to puzzle everyone. Whether it was a LG’s fault or not, it seems rather ridiculous that the device missed out on the biggest shopping season of the year due to poor planning and manufacturing.
Perhaps the most criticized aspect of the Nexus 4 was the lack of native 4G LTE. Given how nearly every new flagship phone has this technology, a lot of people considered this to be a major blunder. However, Google and LG absolutely knew what they were doing with this decision. The major problem with 4G phones is the terrible battery life. Nearly every one I have used would barely last a complete day with heavy use and the only company that has successfully adressed this was Motorola with their Droid RAZR MAXX HD. Google and LG recognized that the market isn’t exactly set on how to handle this new technology and made a consious and logical decision to exclude it.
This is perhaps the one area where Google has finally relaxed quite a bit. It seemed as though, since the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, Google was going full-speed developing Android and polishing it off. That was necessary as only a year ago, Android was still considered a buggy operating system and rather inaccessible to the general public. However, massive strides in usability and overall cleanliness have made it one of the most elegant looking mobile operating systems available today.
However, Google has been approaching software updates with a different tactic recently, by releasing minor, incremental updates. The reasoning behind this is most likely due to the fact that Android has reached a certain stability now and users are suffering from the way OEMs deal with major updates — some devices take well over a year to catch up! Theoretically, if smaller updates are released, it should be easier for OEMs to adapt them for their handsets. The downfall of this method is that it requires more frequent releases.
The Ecosystem’s Response
As usual, the mobile device ecosystem has responded in a targeted manner to the new Nexus line-up. Normally, Nexus devices only affected the Android ecosystem, but with the latest ventures, Google has made an impact on other platforms as well.
While this is indeed an Android website, it would be ridiculous to not talk about how Google’s Nexus has had an effect on Apple. The reason I’m bringing it up in this article and didn’t in the last installment is because of the 7″ tablet form factor, an initiative that Google popularized and that had an incredibly significant change on how Apple did business.
Steve Jobs made it very clear before his passing that Apple had no intention of releasing a smaller iPad. At the time, his reasoning wasn’t contested because everyone was still discovering the benefits of the tablet form factor. With the release of the iPad, the initial targeting of tablets was for the home, the large screen being perfect for couch surfing and passing between family members around the house. The 9.7″ iPad wasn’t a very portable device that you could stick in your jacket pocket while walking out the door.
The success of the Nexus 7, following the excitement over the Kindle Fire, was undoubtedly a major turning point for Android and the tablet market. The Nexus 7 was a lightweight, small tablet that offered nearly everything a larger tablet did, with an incredibly cheaper price point. It became more apparent that different people want different things from their technology and while some enjoyed the larger form factor, others were absolutely loving the idea of a smaller full-featured device that could easily fit in large pockets or purses.
That’s why Apple’s release of the iPad Mini wasn’t shocking and had been predicted since the Nexus 7′s launch date. While the Mini isn’t exactly a 7″ tablet, there is no question as to what competitor device the company was targeting. The big issue with the iPad Mini is that Apple preferred to keep it a premium product, making it quite expensive when compared with similarly spec’ed devices. When compared with the Nexus 7′s 199$ entrance point, the iPad Mini is less of an impulse buy and more of a thoughtful purchase.
Other Android OEMs are very much aware of how important Google’s Nexus line is to the overall health of the Android ecosystem. As a result, there are actually very few devices that are specifically designed to compete with a Nexus. Instead, OEMs are taking the pushes instigated by the Nexi, adapting and putting creative twists on them. This is the exact reason the original Nexus was released in the first place and why Android has flourished into the most popular mobile operating system in the world.
Amazon, for better or for worse, seems to be the only “partner” that is directly challenging Google’s Nexus tablets. Admittingly, it was their Kindle Fire that led Google to the Nexus 7, so it’s a mutual competition. The Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 are incredibly similar to Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD line, and given that the two announcements were quite close in time, it seems that both companies are heading in the same direction, while still being completely independent of each other.
Over the past couple of years, the Amazon and Google relationship has become one of the most odd of any of the other OEMs. Amazon’s approach with Android has been a departure from everyone else, by taking the basic source code and re-skinning it so much to the point where it doesn’t feel or behaves like the Android we all know and love. Additionally, they cut out Google’s app offerings and marketed their own app store. While you could argue that this is a rude way to handle an open-source operating system, Amazon and Google really aren’t enemies even though they do have highly competing products.
The truth is, Amazon and Google are partners and competitors, which is what makes the relationship so interesting. First, having a big player like Amazon involved with Android will help better the image and chances of the ecosystem to fend off all the recent legal activity in the mobile world. And second, Amazon’s products help Android reach a slightly different audience than the Nexus 7 and 10, hence broadening the appeal and adoption of the platform compared to other competitors — Apple mainly.
Google and its Nexus line-up’s effects on the Android ecosystem are obviously the most influential and always will be. It is the company’s job to continue guiding the market in the right direction, and consequently, it is the ecosystem’s opportunity to take these pushes and do something more with them. After all, Android’s open-source status opens up the experience for so much more diversity than any other platform. It is all of these aspects that will maintain Android’s status in the smartphone market for the foreseeable future.
One thing is clear however, Google’s Nexus program is certainly attempting to give each manufacturer a chance at greatness. The company is spreading the wealth and really testing the limits of what each partner can do in terms of hardware. This is an interesting business approach and will likely result in an extremely diverse portfolio of successful devices.