Google is a really smart company. They impress me every day, with one thing or another. But something that just struck me now that I’ve kind of known about for a long time is how Nexus and Motorola will Coexist together in the Company’s grand scheme. The Nexus Program and Motorola, in theory, can’t really coexist very well (unless Motorola was the only manufacturer of the Nexus phone). Nexus is supposed to be the phone straight from Google, who worked closely with another company to produce a phone that would be the perfect example of what Google wanted Android to be. Motorola’s roll has been a bit ambiguous until very recently however.
Nexus Then, and Nexus Now
The Nexus line of phones once existed for a different reason than it does today. The Nexus One came to us during Android’s more darker parts of history. None of us should be afraid to admit that – while Froyo and Gingerbread were pretty significant and important steps forward – Android worked poorly, acted sporadically and looked pretty gross in the process. Google’s reasoning for the Nexus Program wasn’t to necessarily sell phones however. Their meaning was, more or less, three fold:
- To provide developers with a phone that could be easily manipulated software-wise (rooting etc) so they could get the best experience they could while developing for the platform.
- To provide an idealized example of what Android could and should be like, and what Google envisioned it to be.
- To ensure that these phones, out of everyone else, got updates fast, as soon as they were available.
The second and third bits there seem to be the most important on the list. Everyone remembers their Gingerbread Android phones — a lot of us had them. Mine was an HTC Thunderbolt. It ran Android Gingerbread (wait, it did get Ice Cream Sandwich?) as well as it could, had 4G LTE, had about four hours of usable battery life and had HTC’s intense, over-complicated, Sense version 3.5 on top of it all. But…Sense was pretty necessary. As was Touchwiz, Moto Blur, and all the rest. At a time when Android was just starting to grow up, Manufacturers needed to differentiate their products and improve upon Google’s own work to make sure their products sold. And there were so, so, so many Android phones out there. Droids, EVOs, Galaxys, MyTouch — the list could go on and on. And the result of all of this: Fragmentation. It was everyone’s favorite word when it came to Android back in 2010, and it plagued manufacturers and the OS itself (not to mention consumers) for the duration of their two-year contracts.
It was a mess, and Google knew it. People blamed them for not getting updates out fast enough, and some even called for Google to lock down the OS like Apple had with iOS, to better control the reins of their own OS. Nexus was the means to and end, for the time being at least, and allowed Google to have control over something. To prove that they could do it.
Fast forward to today, and while those three ideals remain, Google came up somewhat short on their grand bargain. Why? Nexus isn’t exactly the most popular name out there. iPhone, Galaxy, HTC One — those are the names people recognize. “Nexus 5? What happened to the other four?” Google also has an unfair advantage: They control the code for updates, so of course they’re able to push them out whenever they feel like it. It’s under their control, and manufacturers are subject to whenever Google decides to give it out to them. Plus, custom skins haven’t gone away as Android has become more beautiful. Some of them, like HTC Sense, have really refined themselves into something that makes it extremely unique, but positively Android. Others, like Oppo’s own skin, Touchwiz and LG’s Custom Skin have gotten prettier – sort of – but added more bloat and more of their own “charm”. The other day, I had someone ask me what the difference was between a Galaxy and an Android. When I told them they were synonymous to an extent, they were amazed. That shouldn’t be. And that’s where Motorola comes in.
Motorola: Google’s Apple to their Android
The most significant advantage Apple has always held over Google in the race for best OS, is that they are in control — I mean, very in control — of their Hardware production and Software management. They control every step of the process. Android’s OEMs modify Android for a reason: They want their phone to be different in the best way. Samsung’s touchless handy-wavy-things are fun, but most importantly they’re good marketing gimmicks. LG takes advantage of Samsung’s obvious obsession with gimmicks in their advertising, too.
Google has only been in control of Hardware as far as Nexus has allowed them — which is to say, not very much. None of the partners they’ve worked with are actually under Google’s control; it’s been a partnership. Motorola is different. Motorola is owned by Google, and while they aren’t probably going to be producing any Nexus devices anytime soon, they are essentially allowing Google to maintain a certain bit of control over the hardware side of things when it comes to Android. Where’s the proof? Motorola’s latest Droids run a nearly stock version of the OS, as does the Moto X. They have some unique and extremely useful software enhancements like touchless control, Motorola Assist and the like, but what’s more? A great deal of them are in the Play Store, not locked into the phone’s Firmware. With a near Stock OS, Motorola barely has to do any modifications of Google’s code once they receive it, and the modifications they make are impressively fast. All they have to do is bundle the newest versions of the Play Store apps into the phones, and you have yourself an update. Touchwiz simply cannot move that quickly when it comes to updates.
But Moto X Got 4.4 Before the Nexus 4
Yes, that’s true. And to be honest, besides the bug fixes that needed to be included in the Nexus 4’s release, I can’t think of any other reason why this happened other than Google let them update first. Or maybe they simply worked that much quicker? Who knows. But with Verizon being the first one to push out the 4.3 update for the Galaxy S4, and now the first one to push out 4.4 for the Moto X, maybe we’re seeing a new side of Verizon and Android now. I’m excited for these changes, finally understand how Motorola is going to Coexist with the Nexus Program. Nexus is going to be the phone for Developers which always stays Up-to-Date and always shows off what Google wants. Motorola is going to be the Phone for everyone else, which always stays up-to-date and always shows off what we want.