AH Primetime: Why Are There so Few Stock Android Devices?

May 21, 2013 - Written By Briley Kenney

AH Primetime is a unique forum of sorts where our writers get to speak their mind on various topics in the industry. By no means, am I trying to push any of this content out as fact. Most of it is based on personal opinion, so please keep that in mind when reading. Enjoy!

I have a dream, and I’m sure you do too if you love the Android ecosystem.

Android enthusiasts dream of a Nexus-like device with a stock OS experience. It’s all too often that manufacturers bog down a charming device with a proprietary forked OS version. Just recently, Samsung was lambasted by many because of how much space the new Touchwiz package takes up on the Galaxy S4. We’re not here to argue semantics nor are we here to argue what company makes the best smartphones.

We’re here to answer one very valid, very relevant question- why don’t more companies make a stock nexus device

Now, more than ever the question is blindingly evident especially because of the recently announced Samsung Galaxy S4 Google edition. The idea is ingenious really, Samsung and Google have combined forces to offer the top smartphone in the industry with a stock Android experience- absolutely brilliant.

It’s produced a new issue though, namely due to the price. The Nexus devices are known for their affordability, and the new Google edition Samsung Galaxy S4 is quite pricey starting at $649. I’m sure some people are going to pick up the stock Galaxy S4, but quite a few folks are cringing about that price tag- me included.

That being said, why don’t more manufacturers offer budget-friendly stock Android devices?

White Nexus 4 Video Image

Exclusivity is [Seemingly] Used to Attract More Consumers

Almost anyone will tell you this point is rather silly, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Consumers and big businesses think very differently. Often, companies go with flashy features over polish and care, when it comes to a product.

In the case of Android phones, most manufacturers reskin the OS in an effort to offer something exclusive, something unique. Instead, it often gets out of hand especially when it concerns carrier branded bloatware- Verizon is one of the biggest culprits of such.

Samsung has Touchwiz, HTC has Sense, Motorola has Blur and so on and so forth. Each company offers exclusive services and features that are only available on their devices, and that even trickles down to varying wireless carriers. Verizon offers different services from T-Mobile and AT&T. You get the point.

They adopt this approach to persuade customers to buy their particular products. It seems like this is how carriers think: if we let consumers do whatever they want with their devices, thus allowing them to use any service they want than they won’t use proprietary ones which translates to less money coming in.


If You’ve Been Left Behind, You Have More Reason to Upgrade

Stock Nexus devices outlive their life cycles considerably, at least they outlive the normal life cycle of other handsets. They get continuous updates further improving their usefulness for months, even years.

What do you see with other handsets? They have a life cycle of about 8 to 12 months, and even that’s pushing it. OTA updates take extremely long to release, and when they do hit the airwaves they come with lots of bloatware and proprietary features.

Think about this logically. If you have an older device and the manufacturer announces you won’t be getting the latest version of Android, what are you more likely to do? Chances are pretty high that you’ll run out and purchase a new phone to stay on the bleeding edge. Sure, there’s no guarantee you’ll buy a particular manufacturers handset but the tactic is still making them plenty of money. Why would these companies stop now?

There’s no motivation for them to release a nexus-like device. If you get continuous updates and it increases the life cycle of your device, that’s less money for them in the long run.


Carriers are Also to Blame

Nexus-like devices are open and free. They include unlocked bootloaders, and they’re easily modified. Think of these devices as a wireless carrier’s worst nightmare.

Some carriers lock down tethering functionality, others go even further locking down support for custom ringtones and more. A lot of carriers make money by restricting access to users, and then showing them “the light” at the end of the tunnel. If users can only access a certain feature or function by paying for it through their carrier, that’s more money being spent. It sure seems redundant, but companies are in it for the profits. Most of the time, they won’t allow things to happen unless there’s something in it for them.

A more recent example of this tactic is AT&T blocking support for Google Voice calls through their network. Verizon and other carriers block Google Wallet and various other services to further their own coffers.

Unfortunately, it seems like greed makes the world go ’round.


So What Does All of This Mean?

With any luck the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google edition will be successful, and whether you like Samsung devices or not, you should be rooting for it too. Rest assured, the other manufacturers will be closely watching its progress. If the stock Galaxy S4 moves well and consumers eat it up than Samsung’s rivals will definitely follow suit.

As a general rule, companies flock to where the money is. We see the same old bandwagon approach all the time and it never gets old. For example, T-Mobile is meeting with some pretty decent success because of their new ‘Uncarrier’ and contract-free plans. What has the competition been doing in response? They’ve been adopting and advertising their own contract-free plans, because they’re jumping on the bandwagon.

Personally, I would love to see an HTC One running stock Android and I know I’m not the only one. I hear about it all day, every day as soon as someone mentions the Google edition of the Galaxy S4.


What Are Your Thoughts?

I don’t have to tell you twice that I’m a big Android buff, I mean I am here writing for Android Headlines, after all. That being said, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know everything and that’s why healthy discussions are great! I’d love to hear what you think about the lack of stock Android devices on the market. Are there any points I missed? Do you disagree with something I’ve said?

Since this is a Primetime piece and I get to speak my mind I will say this, keep the insults to yourself- jerkface. I’m only kidding, hopefully you were able to detect the sarcasm there.

I take that insult back, I promise. Now go forth and converse my fellow Android lovers!