Ever since Google
(NASDAQ:GOOG) introduced its Nexus brand of Android devices with the Nexus One back in 2010, customers have come to expect certain features from the line. Not only would Nexus owners be first in line to receive software updates, users also get an operating system touting a "pure Google experience," meaning there's no manufacturer skin masking a stock Android platform. And while hardware specs would be close to the top-of-the-line, unsubsidized prices would be far more affordable than your average flagship smartphone.
Such aspects have earned the Google brand its share of fans -- not just from consumers but analysts and tech bloggers as well. The most recent Nexus release, the Nexus 5 by LG, which debuted last Halloween, is still considered by many critics to be the best Android phone on the market. And a growing number of users in the market for a new phone will now wait for the inevitable Nexus release each year before plunking down a few hundred for a new device.
However, what has seemed "inevitable" until now may soon be, in fact, evitable: A recent rumor seems to indicate that the celebrated Nexus brand might be on its way out.
According to Russian blogger Eldar Murtazin, Google will no longer manufacture Nexus devices in 2015
, and instead concentrate on releasing Google Play editions of existing smartphones -- with a newly branded name. Devices like Samsung's
(OTCMKTS:SSNLF) Galaxy S4 and HTC's
(TPE:2498) One devices have seen Google Play versions wherein their manufacture skins (TouchWiz and Sense, respectively) are removed, giving the user an unfettered, stock version of Google's Android software.
Upon reporting the rumor -- which should be taken with a grain of salt, given Murtazin's spotty track record -- some writers have applauded the decision and deemed the Nexus line irrelevant in light of recent advances in the smartphone industry.
"[The] product line itself is running out of reasons to exist," writes Jared Newman for Time
in a piece titled "It's About Time for Google's Nexus Line to Go Away."
"[The] Nexus brand name itself is due for retirement, because it communicates nothing about the product to those who don't already know its meaning."
But Newman fails to produce a compelling argument as to why consumers are better off without Nexus devices.
He cites the existence of Google Play editions of smartphones and tablets like the Galaxy S4 and LG's G Pad 8.3 as a means for one to get a stock Android fix. And yet, at $650 and $350, they're significantly more expensive than the $350 Nexus 5 and $230 Nexus 7 tablet. Newman points to the Google Play edition of Motorola's Moto G, which sells for $180, as proof that a low-cost Nexus device is no longer needed. But of course, a quick look at the Moto G's modest specs proves you're buying a device that's inferior to the Nexus 5.
Curiously, Newman then writes, "If you're a smartphone user in the United States, and you don't regularly take your phone abroad, you're almost always better off with a $200 phone and a two-year contract than a $300 phone and no contract."
Although he qualifies that statement with the monthly discounts offered by "cheaper wireless services" for unsubsidized phones, the math continually works in the customer's favor for almost every provider except Verizon
(NYSE:VZ). Plus, some users couldn't put a price on the freedom of swapping out a carrier's SIM card for another, even if they're not traveling internationally.
But perhaps the strangest argument against the Nexus brand comes from Clinton Stark, whose piece "Why Google Should Kill the Nexus Brand"
begins with four paragraphs touting the line's lower price, lack of bloatware, speedy updates, and overall freedom from carrier meddling before criticizing the name itself.
"Google should kill the Nexus program," Stark writes. "For one, it's as nerdy a name as anyone in tech can recall. Blade Runner
(1984)? Classic film. Amazing. But does the Nexus name, which no doubt was lifted from Ridley Scott's neo-noir masterpiece, resonate with women? Mainstream buyers? iPhone users?"
He even throws a few more compliments Nexus' way before equivocating that "Google Play Edition" may or may not be a more appealing name for those switching from Apple
The truth is, in 2014, Nexus matters. Mobile providers still hold too much power and continue to institute draconian fees and policies that require freedom at a lower, unsubsidized cost. Google Play editions, while always welcome, still mean a costlier device and one released months after the initial skinned version. And there's a reason why Nexus fans prefer the "pure Google experience" from the brand and why no Google Play edition is currently considered the best Android phone on the market.
While we may see good reasons as to why the Nexus name will be irrelevant in 2015, they certainly aren't apparent in 2014.
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