Since the early days of Android, the loyalists in the Google ecosystem have hoped that one day Andy Rubin would descend from the Googleplex with a series of devices that were stock Android with unlocked bootloaders. In other words, the simultaneous release of multiple “Nexus” type devices is the dream of a large part of the Android community.
The core problem with the current Nexus system, in a nutshell, is that it is designed to be a reference device. It is the first device on the latest version of Android, and as such the rest of the Android OEMs will deliver vastly superior hardware to that product a month or two later. Take the recent Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which was recently thoroughly trounced by the Snapdragon S4-powered HTC One X in every way but the pure Android experience.
So now, at the height of the Android excitement, there comes word from on high that Google might be planning to drop five new phones and a tablet into the Google Play Store when the next iteration of Android is ready. If you’ve all finished salivating, we can take a look at why that is so unlikely.
We’re still awhile away from Jelly Bean
It wasn’t but a year ago that Google said that they had plans to slow down the release cycle for Android, in order to better accommodate the ecosystem. Unlike the Chrome browser, where they can push a dozen updates a week and no one is the wiser, Android devices have shown that they take an excess of six months to catch up to a single version release from Google. On top of that, Google is now supporting a phone platform, a tablet platform, and a set top box platform that their audience will expect to be in similar standing as the entire OS evolves.
As it stands right now, very few existing devices have made transition to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Over the next month that number is expected to increase, on top of the new devices coming out with Android 4.0. So, here we sit — in the middle of May — with the Android ecosystem just barely catching up to the last version of Android, which was released by Google in December. Do you really believe that Googlers thinks it’s a good idea to hop up on stage next month an announce a new update to the OS?
What about developers? Most developers still haven’t rolled over into Android 4.0, in many cases because it isn’t necessary yet. Most app developers will only support the version of Android where the highest volume of users are, and right now that is Android 2.3. Supporting ICS isn’t a priority because only 1% of the entire Android ecosystem are using the latest version. If the developers are already not supporting the latest version, what incentive is there to push an update that even fewer Android users will adopt right away? Plain and simple, the entire Android ecosystem isn’t ready for another version of Android yet. I don’t think it makes any sense for the Android world to expect another version of Android next month.
Misunderstanding, and the Google environment
So, if Google isn’t dropping Jelly Bean next month, what are all of these devices we keep hearing about? Google should absolutely take the reigns and release a swath of devices to the Google Play Store, right alongside the Galaxy Nexus. No contracts, just flat out hardware. I am in full support of what is basically the original Nexus plan.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that if you are on a CDMA carrier.You’ll notice that the Google Play Store doesn’t sell the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, or the Sprint Galaxy Nexus for that matter, at that delicious $399 price tag. Google isn’t quite as willing to threaten those relationships by hitting them in their subsidy wallet. Not to mention, you can’t have a pure AOSP build of a CDMA Android device, due to the licensing issues involved. So, if Google releases a batch of phones, expect them to be GSM.
The other thing to consider is that Google might not be planning to release devices at all. If you’ve been paying attention to the speakers at this year’s AnDevCon, you’d see that there are no shortage of Googlers with beta builds of Jelly Bean. Several developers in attendance at that event have made note of it and it’s not surprising. Google tests their OS in every stage of the build process in very much the same way. In fact, Google has private developer space in Mountain View for OEMs and other partners that would like to come an work with them on the next version of Android.
The cost of this? You sign a few NDAs and nothing you do inside the Googleplex is allowed to leave the building until Google says you can. The result is often devices that are ready much earlier than would normally allow. Take, for example, the HTC Flyer. Mere weeks after Android 2.3 was announced, HTC had Android 2.3 wrapped in Sense at a trade show. When asked how this was possible, HTC flat out admitted that Google gave them access to the software before it was publicly available.
The future of Nexus
I think it is very likely that there are multiple OEMs working on hardware for the next version of Android at Google. I fully believe that Google plans to add more devices to the Play Store, and I am absolutely sure that Google is working with someone on a Nexus-branded tablet running the next version of Android as their reference device. In no way do I think any of this will be ready next month, nor do I think that Google is prepared to offer a swarm of devices on the Play Store.
It seems far more likely that this rumor is the result of snippets of information from “sources in the know” that were sewn together into an elaborate construction. With the Android ecosystem the way it is right now, however, it just doesn’t seem remotely possible that such a story will come to fruition anytime soon.
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