Nexus & Cookies: A More Focused Direction?
It is that time of the year again, and we are approaching the day where Android fans all over the world gather to watch the livestream of Google’s I/O conference. Among the expected announcements lay wearables, Android Auto, hints at VR and the Internet of Things and, of course, a new version of Android. An early glimpse of a supposed “Android M” was caught on the official website before being nuked out of existence, and thus the speculation began.
Now we have yet another (code) name for Android M: Macadamia Nut Cookie. This is quite a long name for a final release, and the Android community is already trying to guess the actual and final moniker. Muffin, Milkshake, Marshmallow and the like are common names we’ve seen being suggested, but ultimately we have no clue. Names aside, Android M (or whatever Android update we get) could bring forth an entirely new change of focus for the platform. Lollipop began a redesign with Material Design, but months later it is still inconsistent. It didn’t have the best adoption process either. With Lollipop not being on even 10% of current handsets, do we need a huge jump so early into its life?
Android M could redeem Google’s failed Lollipop ambitions, and with proper testing and planning, it could actually have a smooth and surprising release. But more importantly, what we are mostly interested about are its new features, functionality and optimizations. More importantly, the new Android version would need to tie in with Android Auto, Android Wear, a possible sequel to Google Glass, a new Internet of Things framework and, of course, new Nexus releases. This last bit is so important to developers and Android purists that we can not wait to see what happens with the new Nexus family members.
The Google Nexus 6 featured great specifications, an impressive design and a larger-than-life screen. All of this made for a device that was significantly more expensive than the still-amazing Nexus 5, and you could feel the disappointment and frustration surrounding the community the very moment the Nexus 6’s price tag became publicly known. Still, many people loved Google’s new approach, and the fact that the company had made an incursion into the phablet space suggested a new direction for Android – a bigger one (literally) … which didn’t stop people from complaining (in some cases, rightfully so)
The truth is that plenty of people did not want a phablet Nexus – not even if it maintained the affordable philosophy of previous iterations. People wanted – and still want – a Nexus 5 refresh. The Nexus 6 was, regardless, a strategic move for Google. The insignia of Android had finally recognized the phablet, which would in turn allow more OEMs to begin incorporating the format to their suite of devices. It also was in tune with their Wear release, as the smartwatches’ philosophy is all about not taking out your cumbersome phone out of your pocket, and the Nexus 6 is one of the most cumbersome phones there is (behind this).
For a few months now, rumors were talking about two Nexus releases: one by LG, and a more affordable one by a Chinese OEM. Rumors also suggested that the Chinese Nexus would feature a non-Qualcomm processor brand, and while we still don’t know if this (or anything, for that matter) is true, it’d make sense given the early struggles of the Snapdragon 810 which only got worse. We speculated that this next Nexus would be one made by Huawei, given that their HiSilicon chipset division was growing much stronger. The most recent rumors seem to back up the claim that Huawei and LG are in charge of the next Nexus phones, but the details have changed since the original gossip.
The Huawei Nexus is touted to be a 5.7-inch phablet, but it would not sport a HiSilicon Kirin processor as originally thought… instead, the rumors suggest it would go with a Snapdragon 810. Given the endless failed attempts at taming Qualcomm’s flagship, we are not so sure if this bit is true, and we would not be too happy if it was. But other than the Snapdragon 808, there are not many high-end options available. A Kirin processor would make the most sense, given it’s of Huawei’s own making. It’d be rather odd to see a Mediatek processor on a Nexus device given the ideological incompatibilities between both. Samsung’s Exynos will most likely remain covered and guarded for a while longer as well, but Intel’s newest chipsets (the Atom Z3580 in particular) do show quite a bit of promise.
The LG Nexus, however, would keep at a more traditional 5.2-inch screen and feature a Snapdragon 808, which has already proved itself with the LG G4. The other problem we see with these latest rumors are that the first batch implied that Huawei would be making the cheaper Nexus, but given the specifications, sizes and alleged screen resolutions, this sounds a little bizarre – especially when you consider that the Nexus 5 refresh would take upon an affordable phone, while the phablet refresh would not. If LG puts out a much more expensive Nexus 5 and Huawei puts out a much cheaper Nexus 6, we imagine a lot of people would not be happy.
With Huawei going for high-quality devices to try to erase its bad reputation, and expand into more markets this way, it’d be rather inconsistent for them to make a significantly cheaper Nexus (if it means compromising that image). They are focusing on the high-end, particularly in international markets, with devices like the Huawei Watch and more “premium” smartphone experiences with the P8. Given the backlash that the Nexus 6 got for its price, it is also likely would have heard the disappointment and outcries and would aim for an affordable Nexus once again… So we are stuck with the question, which one will be affordable? LG’s? Huawei’s? Both? None? The dual strategy could, however, please both types of Nexus consumers – the ones who wanted a Nexus 5 all along and those who settled for a Nexus 6 and grew to love the new direction. But the prices do matter as well, as seen with the Nexus 6 backlash… and the device did not go on to sell very well, presumably due to both the size and price.
Google’s new Android M version could in fact come, but even if it doesn’t, the next update has a lot to tackle and live up to. First of all, the actual updating process has been getting flak all over, and players like Microsoft are quick to criticize it. They are right in many aspects, but ultimately Google is not fully responsible for the procedure. We didn’t exactly like it either, but we do not blame Google and Google only for it. The reputation hit falls on them for the most part, though, so it’d make sense that they’d arrange a deal with OEMs and carriers, or optimize the updating process in some other way, so that adoption rates can finally become truly competitive (with other mobile platforms). This could consequently lead to a bigger hold of Android, something that could strengthen rival Cyanogen’s argument against the company. One thing is clear: Google needs to at least attempt to get this version on more devices, and faster at that.
The other issue Lollipop suffered was how unpolished it felt. This was a big disappointment, and the infamous memory leak persisted through several updates. OEMs tried their hand at fixing the issues for their firmware releases, but most non-stock devices are still stuck at 5.0.x and still suffer from one issue or another. Widespread complaints of battery drain increases also did not alleviate the disappointment. What is more shocking is that Google had two Developer Previews to gather feedback. One of the problems was that the process was limited to the Nexus 5. Android M would need a preview, and rumors suggest that it will indeed get one. If it does, we hope that it is not limited to a single phone, and that they figure out a way to make the most out of it as well.
The same rumors talk about a renewed focus on battery and RAM. This is extremely important, particularly after Lollipop’s issues on these fronts. At the XDA Office we constantly discuss how obnoxious it is for us, experienced power users, to have to track down wakelocks or other issues and then fix them manually. Regular users, however, are affected the most by Android’s inconsistencies and/or sudden anomalies. Google Play Services are a common culprit and this past year we’ve seen severe wakelocks that affected some Lollipop ROMs. Location services can be quite a pain for battery conscious users, and it is presumed that Google will attempt to cut check-in counts and reduce off-screen activity in general. A smarter use of memory would also benefit the platform, especially now that we are getting into 4GB RAM territory – which means the memory manager could be eased up and be made a tad less aggressive.
An important part of Android M is the synergy with the Android handsets it’ll get first to: Nexus devices, particularly the new upcoming releases. We expect the next iteration to finally bring multi-window to the table, as the Nexus 6 missed a golden opportunity (given its screen size). The next phablet could finally make good use of a multi-window implementation (hopefully one that is as organic as Samsung’s latest revision). Android M would need a tighter cohesion with the devices’ hardware as well: it was not until Android 5.1 that the Nexus 6 was optimized to use 4 cores intelligently across UI operations, which dramatically sped up the phone in regular usage. The Nexus 6 had less-than-stellar performance on release due to its slow NAND (which was only weighed down further with the default encryption), so the new update should make better use of the hardware of the devices it comes on, off the bat.
Android M will also focus on security – this is a trend that has been growing with Google for the past couple of years. They had partnered with Samsung to bring some of KNOX’s excellence to stock Android, they brought default encryption on the Nexus 6, they have been pushing for factory reset protection on many handsets, and their focus on enterprise with Android for Work and similar projects requires advanced security measures. This focus didn’t stop them from being under fire for the recent factory reset vulnerability, the much-discussed WebView controversy, and even things like Hangouts not featuring end-to-end encryption (which shouldn’t have been a shocker in the first place). We don’t know too much about Android M on these fronts, but it is suggested that Android will support native fingerprint authentication (something which we are rather skeptic about).
Everything we know hints at Google making a comeback with Android M (or whatever update we do get). As the industry moves forward, stakes get bigger and investments need to expand to account for the growing competition. Google did in fact underperform with Lollipop: the adoption process, the early bugs and glitches, the following growing pains, the lack of cohesion in Material Design, the wakelocks from Google Play Services, and more. Some of these in particular left a rather sour taste on many users’ tongues, so it’d make sense that Google would try to tackle these problems head-on.
Moreover, the Nexus line’s alleged revamp could finally make every Nexus purist happy. A 2015 refresh of the Nexus 5 sounds like a dream come true for many Nexus 5 owners (I’d love one myself!), but it is imperative that they get the pricing right. This does not mean it has to be as cheap as the Nexus 5 was back in the day, but considering that high-specification smartphones are also becoming more affordable, Google could reinforce the trend which would ultimately bring Android more users (and thus, bring Google more revenue). We are not too sure what to think about the alleged 810 in the Nexus phablet, and it wouldn’t surprise us if another processor made it in.
The fate of Android M depends on many factors that Google seems to deeply acknowledge. Nexus phones are also a big aspect of the update, although to a lesser extent. We will learn a lot more about the future of Android software at this week’s Google I/O keynote; if we are lucky, perhaps we’ll even get some information about the upcoming Nexus devices. We will be covering the event this Thursday, so stay tuned!
What do you think Google’s direction will be like with Android M and the new Nexus phones? What do you want it to focus on? Sound off below!