Is Google’s Strategy With the Nexus Flawed?

The biggest gripe that I have with the Android platform being an Android user is the Nexus lineup. While Google shows that it has done a lot right with the Nexus lineup, its approach to updating Android and maintaining a consistent user experience across different products needs re-examination in an era where Android has matured and the technologies powering the hardware has grown over the last several years.

The Problem

The problem with the way that Google approaches Android is that it allows for the latest version of its operating system to be released on the Nexus line first. After the latest Nexus products are released, other manufacturers even get the code to evaluate if they want to provide their own customers with an upgrade path.

Take for instance the latest release of the Android OS in the form of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Jelly Bean is delivered first on the Galaxy Nexus, which is a fine piece of hardware. But today, when the hottest Android smartphones are released, they are being shipped out of the gate with an already dated platform, which means that Android looks less competitive than iOS and Windows Phone where all devices running those OSes are shipped out with the latest OS. Today, the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III, arguably two of the most coveted phones on the market today, are being shipped with Ice Cream Sandwich, and not Jelly Bean. These flagship phones are already a generation behind in terms of software. However, in terms of hardware, they are more advanced than the Galaxy Nexus for which Jelly Bean is shipping for first.

It’s Not Entirely Google’s Fault, But It Is

One may argue that this situation is not entirely the fault of Google. After the source code is available, manufacturers will often work with carriers to evaluate an upgrade plan and strategy. This could take a while, along with software testing, network tests to ensure that everything works great on the latest 4G networks, and customer testing to ensure that the upgraded OS on the current hardware will deliver a good user experience. So while it may take Samsung months to deliver a Jelly Bean upgrade to Galaxy S III owners because of rigid testing done on the part of the carrier, this situation really actually is Google’s fault.

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First, Google could adopt a strategy like Microsoft. Through standardization in hardware components, Microsoft works with its OEMs to ensure that once a new release of the Windows Phone platform is out, it will be delivered in a timely manner to existing devices if applicable. This ensures that devices from HTC, LG, Samsung, and Nokia get updated at roughly the same time so that we won’t see new halo devices appear while other devices get released with older OSes.

Why a Nexus Strategy Doesn’t Make Sense Today

When Google released its first Nexus with HTC in the form of the Nexus One, the company promised that the Nexus series would allow it to create a halo product in the Android ecosystem to show other manufacturers how it envisions the hardware and software together while at the same time deliver early and timely software updates to developers. A few years a later and several generations of Nexus phones later, we are in a different world of Android. The Nexus strategy was born in the infancy of Android where there was a lot of different variations between hardware and the platform wasn’t quite mature or polished. Instead, OEMs had to rely on their own cunning to deliver a better experience to customers, including Exchange ActiveSync integration, Facebook sync, and other apps.

Gone are the over-dominating skins and UIs. Motorola’s MOTO BLUR, HTC’s Sense, and Samsung’s TouchWiz UX are all designed to complement Android rather than overlay an entirely disparate and different experience on the platform. This shows how much Android has matured as Google has integrated the best features of various different Android products across a range of manufacturers in releases such as Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich, and Jelly Bean. No longer is the hardware vastly different between manufacturers, but even vastly different CPUs are powerful enough to handle most common Android tasks, even gaming.

What Google Should Do

If the company intends to keep the Nexus hardware dream alive, it should at least work concurrently with other OEMs and release the Android source code before the Nexus launch so that other manufacturers could also launch new flagships with the latest version of Android. In the Jelly Bean example, had Google made the source code available to other OEMs as it was developing Jelly Bean, perhaps this would give Samsung time to release the flagship Galaxy S III with a current OS.

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As it stands, the Galaxy S III is the hottest Android phone today with an outdated version of the mobile OS, which is a sad reality of how Google handles the platform through its Nexus program as well as when the company makes the Android source code available to OEMs.

Comments

  1. David Williams says

    You probably should do your research before writing a blog post like this. Except for the special edition Nexus 7 that was released during Google I/O, all of the OEM’s were given developers access to Android 4.1 before any new Nexus hardware was released. They have all had access to 4.1 for a few weeks now.

    If you had done your research, you would have also learned the OEM’s have only a limited control as to the OS running on the phones – when and how OS versions are released is primarily a decision of the mobile phone operators who have proven over and over again how reluctant they are to release OS updates before they can skin it themselves. Since the Nexus lines specifically are not skinned, the hardware manufacturers have greater control and can release OS updates much faster.

    The Nexus strategy is a great idea – get OS’s on the market as quickly as possible so the phone companies feel the pressure of shipping outdated OS’s. In the U.S., Verizon is under incredible pressure now to get Android 4.1 on their phones.

  2. Justin Cunninghan says

    I agree 100% with David Williams. I had written a longer response but he pretty much covered it. I can’t believe I read this, or more importantly that it showed up on google as news… oh well.. can’t win em all.

  3. Nick Rodder says

    I’ll third what Dave and Justin have said, it’s right on the money, and add my own 2 cents.

    I want the latest Android OS, and because I want it, know what it is, and am familiar with version numbers, rooting, ROMs, etc, I can get it. Already, my device has some early Jelly Bean builds.

    Here’s the simple truth though: most people do not care! They are completely and perfectly happy with Froyo, or ICS. My co-worker tried out ICS, was unhappy with some of the changes, and demanded to be put back on Froyo. Those who care and know enough to care can and take matters into their own hands. Of course, it would be nice if we didn’t have to, but whatever.

  4. Dan says

    Standardization is for Apple, but most people want phones to suit their needs, not have Apple dictate them. That’s a big reason more and more people are choosing Android phones over iPhones.

  5. Dave says

    Totally agree with the above comments, do not agree with the writer.

    Honestly if you can write a piece about a specific product or service and make a judgement then research it fully.

    Sack this guy !!!!!!

    Google are working hard to build a better plan with OEMS. The nexus range serves as a tester range for new software. You may think the galaxy siii is running an out dated OS but its not, samsung have added so much to ICS (small example – s voice) so its not outdated as such as its unique to samsung but will be getting jelly beans improvements soon.

    Oh and just so you know current windows mobiles will not be receiving windows 8 !

  6. ebinrock says

    “…had Google made the source code available to other OEMs as it was developing Jelly Bean, perhaps this would give Samsung time to release the flagship Galaxy S III with a current OS.”

    Um, doesn’t Samsung make the Galaxy Nexus just as they make the Galaxy S III? That particular OEM, then, would have had the source code already. Or at least, as soon as Samsung got it for the G’Nex, they could have it for the SIII. That would go for any of the OEM’s. When the source code is released, the source code is released, and it’s available to everybody. The CARRIERS are the biggest culprits for not getting timely releases out to people, as they contractually control what software (including their bloatware) goes on the phones, what phones sell on their network, etc. Especially the CDMA carriers.

  7. Rich says

    I can’t completely sympathize with the Android vendors here. I’m in the market for a new Android phone, but when I look at the Samsung Galaxy S3, I’m not saying to myself “I’d get it, but it isn’t on Jelly Bean RIGHT NOW.”

    When I look at the Samsung Galaxy S3 I am saying to myself “this is a great piece of hardware, and it probably will run Jelly Bean in a few months (with no guarantees), and it probably will never run anything after that.” Just look at all the original Galaxy S owners – it took them ages to get Froyo and they never saw anything else. I had Froyo working on an HTC Dream before Samsung had it on the Galaxy S.

    All the major Android vendors have created a reputation for never updating their phones – Google being the only real exception (and even then their upgrade support is pretty weak – maybe 18 months from first introduction on a Nexus phone).

    Right now I’m basically going to wait until a new Nexus phone comes out. The Galaxy Nexus might have Jelly Bean, but it may or may not ever get another update after that, and at most it will only get one. I’d like two years of upgrade support from the date I buy a phone, and I’ll probably never get that with Android, but if I get a Nexus when it is new I’ll likely get 18 months. Right now if I get a Nexus I’ll be lucky to get 9.

    So, the bottom line is I don’t think you can hang all the blame on Google here…

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