AH Nexus 5X,  Nexus 6P,  Chromecast, Chromecast Audio, Pixel C_11

AH Primetime: Google Should Be Making Nexus Phones In-House

November 5, 2015 - Written By Phil Bourget

Since 2010, Google has worked with another company to produce what fans know and love about Android: the Nexus line.  With roots in an initial partnership for the first ever Android device with HTC, and the name coming from the second partnership with the Taiwanese OEM, Google’s Nexus line of devices has had more variance than really any other single line compared to its other-OS-touting competition.  Apple controls iOS as well as iPhone and iPad hardware, so the two are paired, suited, and developed together.  Much the same can be said of Microsoft with their Surface line of tablets and the Microsoft-branded Lumia line, whose OSes are designed to complement the platform and hardware, while showing the same two off.  Google’s Android OS, however, hasn’t really.  But that might be something they want to change.

Google’s got the Nexus line, which features Android in its unaltered, unobstructed state, straight out of AOSP.  Nexus devices also have a second name attached, including the likes of HTC, Samsung, LG, Asus, and Huawei.  HTC and Google brought us the Dream / G1, Nexus One, and Nexus 9.  Samsung brought us the Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, and Nexus 10.  LG and Google have produced the widely-adored Nexus 4 and Nexus 5, as well as this year’s Nexus 5X.  Asus and Google have had a few devices together as well, including the Nexus 7 from 2012 and 2013, as well as the Nexus Player.  Huawei, being the new kid on the block (and in the U.S. marketspace, really) has only the Nexus 6P to show, but it’s quite a first impression.  A lot can be said for why Google passes the hardware gauntlet to these often highly-praised and well-proven companies, but we’ve also seen Google’s own handiwork for than any single OEM, and we’ve tended to love it a lot.

Remember Google’s Nexus Q?  The black orb that was very much a precursor to both Chromecast and Android TV was Google’s baby, through and through.  And we loved it, for the whole less than a year before Google’s infamous Spring Cleaning killed the project off.  We’ve also seen the Chromebook Pixel, and its successor the Pixel 2.  And we saw the Pixel C this year.  The Pixel C is the most important device Google’s made yet, specifically because it runs traditional Android, rather than Chrome OS or a pared down interface that acts only as an intermediary.  The Pixel C showed us Google has both style, and great ideas (regarding the smart detection of the Bluetooth keyboard, as well as its wireless charging capabilities when attached to the Pixel C’s front).  They also showed us that they know how to keep a consistent design language, with the Pixel C looking exactly as a tablet form-factor from the same product line as the Chromebook Pixel and Pixel 2 should.  That’s the important part: Google knows design, and if Android’s Nexus line of devices featured a Pixel-like degree of design evolution and uniformity, we’d see a Nexus and recognize it immediately by the family resemblance, rather than ‘oh, it’s got the big black bar’, ‘look, see the weird-looking camera placement up off to the corner’, or ‘ooh, look at the pretty tessellated back glass panel design’, with bonus points attached if you recognize the device call-outs.

But that’s the things, Google has reason both to and not to handle the Nexus line’s hardware internally as Apple and Microsoft do.  Nexus, in its definition, is a series of connected things, and Google’s branding and pure ‘vanilla’ Android experience is that very connection.  But Google’s also got a few good reasons to move hardware in-house.  The company knows design, and if the Big G could merge the Pixel design language with the Nexus software experience, Android-lovers would rejoice the world over, as long as the price tag didn’t come attached with the design language (yes, we’re all crossing our fingers for you, Pixel C).  Google’s also got the money to burn with the project.  Nexus devices have not sold well historically, we’ve all heard that.  The Nexus 5 sold well because of the price and carrier compatibility, but far less well than the likes of the Galaxy S IV, Galaxy Note III, or One M7 in 2013 and into 2014.  But, as we’ve seen with Google’s Pixel lineup of Chrome OS-clad laptops, the price for ‘not expected to sell well’ is similar to ‘pick a number between nine and fifteen, then add two zeros’.  And that’s the only problem with the prospect of Google moving Nexus hardware to internal production, really.

Google’s trials and tribulations with Europe’s various councils and committees regarding required pre-loading of apps on non-Google hardware.  This is apparently illegal, according to the EU, and Google’s move to making their own Nexus line of devices would fix this literally instantly.  Google-made hardware can have as much Google-ness inside as Google sees fit.  Done.  Next is the issue of things like Android One, which is essentially Nexus-style hardware (no-frills, not very unique)with Google-controlled OS updates that don’t get any manufacturer skins on it.  These are ‘baby Nexuses’, and if Google could work in the production of Android One hardware, along with Nexus, into in-house production, we, and many onlookers, might see ‘Android as Google intended it’ far easier.  If Google wanted to make hardware to showcase Android at its pinnacle, consumer-tier, and for low-income areas, we’d likely see Google’s name alone on Pixel phones, tablets, and laptops, Nexus tablets and phones, and Android One phones, and that could be both a beautiful and beneficial thing for both consumer and manufacturer.