Home >mint-lounge >features >What has been plaguing the Google Nexus phone line-up?

The phones were supposed to be the perfect Android devices, but the Nexus line-up of smartphones haven’t really delivered on that promise. And the foibles were evident from the very beginning.

Teething troubles

Back in 2010, Google started a hardware programme with the Nexus One smartphone. Basically, this phone was meant to give users a smoother Android experience—uncluttered usage, no unnecessary apps and quick updates. In the US, mobile service providers release the final version of any software update for their phones after testing it with their network, services and partner apps, implement SIM-locks, tweak the software and even turn off some hardware or software features that could hurt their revenue. A cumbersome process. But, that rather noble initiative didn’t last long, as Google discontinued the sales of the One a few months later. In a blog post at the time, Google had said, “While the global adoption of the Android platform has exceeded our expectations, the web store has not. It’s remained a niche channel for early adopters, but it’s clear that many customers like a hands-on experience before buying a phone." Since then, Google has continued to struggle—retailers don’t often stock Nexus phones and operators aren’t too bothered with bundling them in contracts.

Forging partnerships? Not so much

Google has persisted and worked with a manufacturer every year to create new Nexus phones—HTC, Samsung, LG and Motorola have all built Nexus devices. It has appealed largely to two very distinct user demographics—the app developers who rely on Google’s support and the niche users who preferred the clean Android experience without any third party customizations and unnecessary app bundles. But, these numbers are small, which is why Nexus phones don’t really register on the global smartphone sales charts. For a while, Google experimented with stock Android versions of smartphones made by the likes of HTC and Samsung, for example. Known as the Google Play Edition, they stripped away all the stuff that phone makers usually add to the phones they sell. Needless to say, this didn’t work—for example, why would HTC want to give up the revenue it earns from bundling third-party apps on the phone?

Unable to leverage Motorola’s exeprtise

During the time Google owned Motorola and all its patents, there were big hopes that Google will get the smartphone hardware bit finally. Nexus devices have always included some of the latest specifications, but never really been the fully loaded reference devices that showed the way. The Nexus 6 (made by Motorola for Google), launched last year, packed in powerful specs and a big screen in line with the perceived consumer preferences, but skipped out essentials such as a microSD card slot and packed in a fairly disappointing camera. By definition, a reference product is supposed to pack in everything that a consumer may want from a smartphone.

Another reason why Nexus phones didn’t really light up the market was simply because of the fact that they didn’t play the price game. Perhaps Google didn’t want to, but the Chinese smartphone companies have led the way with the “powerful specs at affordable prices" gamble which has forced the more established smartphone brands to rethink their strategy. At present, Google still retails the Nexus 6 for 33,800 (on the Play Store in India), a year down the line. This does not compare favourably with the likes of the very latest OnePlus 2 ( 24,999).

Not all is bleak though

Despite all the depression about the rather blatant mishandling of the Nexus initiative, there are still some very undeniable positives. Nexus phones are still unparalleled in terms of software support. These phones receive the latest Android updates within days, if not hours, of release. Google can push out security updates much quicker in case a vulnerability is detected—something we have seen over the past couple of months. And it is the clean and unhindered software usage experience that has helped the Nexus build a dedicated fan base.

Secondly, whoever is chosen to make the Nexus phones will always get the benefit of a knock-on effect from the publicity, which will also help shift its own phones quicker. The Nexus fan base is mostly online, and word of mouth spreads there much quicker.

A fresh start

When it started out, Nexus was supposed to showcase the powers and capabilities of the Android operating system to the entire ecosystem. However, the missteps along the way means Samsung’s Galaxy S6 has a better chance of doing that in the present scenario.

But, if Google is able to compete on the price front globally, things can turn around very quickly. Secondly, in the US, the Fi mobile network project could be one thing that could turn the attention back to Nexus phones.

Clearly, the entire Nexus project needs a new start, a fresh purpose. But, from the indications so far, it just seems like an annual refresh of the smartphone line-up.

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