Get ready, gang: Android may be on the brink of its biggest change yet -- a shift that could redefine the platform and send waves through the entire mobile market.
Signs of something big have been brewing in AndroidLand for some time now: First, we've had the increasingly loud buzz about Google's top-secret mission to build an inexpensive Nexus-like tablet. Then, last month, Google opened the door to selling unlocked Nexus devices directly to consumers, eliminating the need for carrier meddling and contract commitments.
Now, at long last, we're getting a glimpse at what's likely the final piece of the puzzle.
Google is getting ready to expand its Nexus program, a report from The Wall Street Journal says, and will soon offer a "portfolio" of Nexus-like flagship devices. Instead of selecting a single manufacturer to make each Nexus model, as it's done in the past, El Goog will reportedly work with up to five different manufacturers in order to offer a wide selection of stock devices -- both phones and tablets.
But wait: There's more. According to the Journal, Google will sell all those Nexus devices directly to users through its new Google Play Device Store. It'll supposedly offer direct sales to users in the U.S., Europe, and Asia; it might even partner up with some retailers to expand the program.
This, my friends, is huge.
The biggest complaint surrounding Android so far has been the lack of consistency and accountability throughout the platform. Some of this is by design: Android is an open platform, after all, and part of that means anyone can modify the software any way they want (paging Amazon...). In many ways, that's a good thing: It's helped fuel Android's explosive growth and has allowed advanced users to customize their devices with an ever-expanding array of after-market ROMs.
For all of its positives, though, there's no denying the negative effects Android's open model can have on the user experience. Manufacturer modifications of Android tend to result in bloated software and unacceptably long upgrade delays. While some people like the ways companies change the OS, many users -- myself, ahem, included -- tend to think the changes strip away the sleek simplicity achieved in Google's OS, particularly as of the evolved and subdued Android 4.0 release.
The choice and diversity within the platform are fine; that's an inherent part of the open model. But for users who want the Android that Google designed, who want the guarantee of timely and reliable OS upgrades, and who want a bloatware-free experience, there's typically only one option -- which, right now, is the Galaxy Nexus.
To borrow the favorite phrase of a certain other mobile tech-maker, expanding those "Google experience" options could change everything. Aside from giving users a variety of choices for pure, unmodified and regularly updated Android devices, Google selling a selection of Nexus phones and tablets directly to consumers could far more broadly eliminate the need to go through a carrier and commit to its rates for a full two years. It'd also eliminate the level of control carriers currently exert over what you can and can't install on your phone.
Just think: After buying a device from Google, you could use it on any compatible carrier you want, then switch carriers or start and stop service anytime you please. If someone introduces a better plan, you can jump ship at the flip of a dime. You could even get a dirt cheap $30-a-month prepaid plan for your Nexus phone and then upgrade it every year, whenever a new model comes out. If the unlocked phones follow the pricing model Google's used so far -- around $400 a pop -- in most cases, a new phone every year combined with prepaid service would actually end up costing less than what you're paying now.
The Journal says Google's portfolio of Nexii will debut with the next version of Android -- the one we think will be called Jelly Bean -- and will become available by this Thanksgiving.
With that step, everything that's happened lately -- the talk of a Google-branded tablet, the launch of a carrier-free Google Nexus store -- suddenly all makes sense. It all leads up to this. This is how Google is taking back control of Android: It's doing it in a very Googley way. In this model, everyone can still customize and modify the platform all they want, but Google will have its own inner circle of premium devices with pure and premium experiences. From hardware to software and carrier control, this army of Nexus devices could finally deliver the full "Google experience" -- the experience that Google has long wanted to provide.
Google tried to do it on a small scale with its Nexus One store in 2010, but the carriers fought the direct-to-consumer sales idea. Back then, they won. But Google is a company that isn't afraid to try and fail. Google is a company that categorically analyzes data and learns from its mistakes. From the looks of it, this time, Google has its game together.
Things are about to get very interesting.
(Google, it's worth emphasizing, has yet to make any type of official announcement. The company also has a firm policy against commenting on unofficial leaks and speculation.)
Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.