A Great Nexus Phone is Now More Important Than Ever Before
It is clear that Google has dramatically changed its focus in the past few years, primarily as a result of the evolution of mobile technology in a global context. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where and why, but it should be noted that KitKat was a turning point for Android: that update drastically improved performance and it allowed mid to low-range devices to get a taste of the wonderful things of which Android is capable. That, and the slow rise of Stock Android devices through several projects and OEMs, have helped get Google’s vision into the handsets of millions in a mostly unadulterated way.
Emerging Markets, Software, Design
At Google I/O 2015, we saw an emphasis on expanding Android’s domination even further as the Mountain View giant once more discussed bringing undeveloped markets online. A year or two ago, plans to tap into The Next Billion were vague and rooted in future promises instead of past results, but that is beginning to change through the resurgence of near-stock Android handsets, the proliferation of low-cost devices, and the rise of Chinese OEMs on the global stage. In this new landscape, reaching unserved markets seems like one of the few logical approaches to ensure Android’s sustainability. Projects like Android One keep growing, and now Google’s affordable and “pure” Android phones have settled in Africa. Moreover, as OEMs focus on affordable smartphones and as technology begins approaching certain plateaus, we see the emphasis on the flagship model and no-compromise experiences gradually disappear.
In a sense, this is everything that we and other publications have been discussing for months: Chinese OEMs, compromise-riddled flagships, affordable handsets, and the intangible glue that binds Android together. And what is a better way to begin getting the gears of the future in motion than releasing Android Marshmallow, an update that is more about preferencing services above innate functionality than any other Android update yet. Google is introducing truly useful Google features with Android Marshmallow, including Now on Tap, which many of us at the office cannot wait to incorporate into our daily lives. I think that this has been Google’s plan for a while: expand the reach of their useful, desirable and original features using the Android platform. But to accomplish this, Google needed the foundation it built over the last several software versions and revisions.
KitKat allowed emerging markets to get a truer taste of Google’s vision for Android, and Lollipop made that vision even tastier. With so many affordable handsets shipping with Lollipop, and with Google expanding its reach through emerging markets with these handsets, one can infer that Material Design will only become more popular and perhaps get a tighter hold of mobile applications. This is not necessarily a bad thing for most, as it’s an amazing design language that is meant to unify several platforms. Many users in The Next Billion will have Android as their first computer, so bringing Material Design to their handsets is an intelligent way of establishing the paradigm in the lives of these new smartphone (and technology) consumers.
The Nexus in the Age of Compromises
This brings us to the next tier of the conversation: the face of Android moving forward. What many enthusiasts expect is not necessarily more Material Design, newer software features from Google Services, or cheaper handsets, but rather the grand embodiment of these factors in something greater than the sum of its parts. This is the new Nexus. There are several things to consider about these new phones, starting with the near certainty that we will see not one, but two models: a revamped Nexus 5 from LG, and a bigger Nexus from Huawei. The main discussions I see on the internet revolve around consistent, well-performing phones at low costs. The way I see it, Google would be crazy if it didn’t try to pull that off.
The Nexus 6 was a great phone, indeed. Great build quality, amazing performance, good screen, decent camera, etc. The one criticism it received was aimed at its price tag, and it allegedly cost the Nexus 6 in sales. But some things lead me to believe that the new Nexus duo will bring a much better bang-per-buck than their immediate predecessor. First of all, let’s consider that LG’s earlier Nexus phones were the ones that cemented the “affordable flagship” trend of the Nexus smartphone line. It was only Motorola who trespassed upon that last year, and it didn’t play out. This very same company is now offering one of the best bang-per-buck phones in 2015 with their Moto X Pure. This new Moto phone, and all other affordable-yet-powerful phones, have made the playing field vastly different from last year’s, especially for a Nexus device.
Truth be told, Google needs to reach as many consumers as possible to make Android Marshmallow shine, because Android Marshmallow brings forth new services upon which Google can capitalize.
“Marshmallow will put in place the foundations for new Google services – the company’s ultimate goal. ”
Android One would cover the low-end and emerging markets, while the new Nexus phones could bring Android Marshmallow’s new Google functionality to those elsewhere. With fast updates, both branches would get important segments (although not huge percentages of the actual smartphone user base) up to date and ready to utilize new Google services. In a way, this is very much akin to the mysterious Android Silver program that disappeared a while back, and getting manufacturers to create Android One devices could be understood as a spiritual successor to the Google Play Edition program. Could the latter have been a way for Google to test the concept’s waters with the security offered by large OEMs and their flagship phones? Either way, Google Play Edition is gone but not forgotten.
With Apple and Microsoft pushing their brands further, Google’s competition is getting much stronger. The fate of Windows 10 phones – particularly when it comes to reviving the popularity of Lumia phones in the low-end – is still largely uncertain, but due to that platform and many others aiming for emerging markets, Google will have to allocate its resources effectively and plan accordingly. Android has the upper hand in terms of popularity and services, but we know that Microsoft is also pushing for bigger and better services. On the software side, Marshmallow will bring some features useful to power users but most importantly, extra foundations for the growth of various Google’s services.
The Nexus phones and Android One have the potential to bring users an early look at the future of Android; the former will inform power users and savvy consumers, while the latter will bring those in The Next Billion up to speed with mobile technology and give them a front row seat for what is to come. We already discussed Android One’s situation in-depth, but the Nexus one is a bit different. Given the Nexus line’s acclaim amongst enthusiast circles, there are high expectations for this year’s iterations. For example, will they feature the Snapdragon 810 and its compromises, or settle for the more stable 808? Will they go for other Systems on a Chip, such as one of Huawei’s HiSilicon Kirin chipsets? What would the ramifications of a HiSilicon chipset be? Will the phone be affordable enough to beat the new affordable competition?
Nexus fans expect a lot out of these devices, but I imagine Google expects a lot of out Nexus phones as well. They could be one of the gates to the new wave of Google Services for many users, just like Android One can be the venue for the emerging markets’ adoption of Google Services en masse. Either way, it’s clear to me that as time goes on, conventional smartphones (particularly flagships) become less alluring and the new frontier of mobile technology is a much more dangerous – but also rewarding – game. The Internet of Things, better platform integration, new services and many offerings from various players could shift the focus away from hardware and lay it on services.
Many already think that upgrades are more of a commodity than a necessity, and I believe there is a lot of truth in that. Regardless, interesting developments are approaching, and Google will most likely play an important role in many of them. But first, they need something to connect the dots… a literal nexus.
Will a Google connect the dots and leap Android and its services forward? Join the conversation below!