Will 'Android Silver' be a good thing for consumers? That depends

Don't look now, Android fans, but some major changes may be coming to the way Google approaches Android.

Android Silver

A fresh report out of The Information claims El Goog is working on a new program called "Android Silver." The program, according to the site, would replace Google's Nexus initiative and serve as a way for the company to "spur development of premium Android smartphones" and "re-assert control over the Android ecosystem."

Whew -- a lot to take in, eh? Let's think it through and break down what it really means.

First and foremost, know that none of this is in any way concrete or official. The Information -- which, it's worth noting, is run by a group of former Wall Street Journal writers with a strong record of credible reporting -- cites four unnamed sources in its story. The blog Android Police released some less specific info earlier this month that matches up with the claims.

But remember, leaks and rumors are just that: leaks and rumors. Even with the most reliable sources, details can be iffy and things can change. So take all of this with a grain of salt for the moment.

Google Android Silver Phones

That being said, the info out there right now suggests Google will start working with manufacturers and carriers to put out a series of "Android Silver"-branded devices sometime next year. From the sounds of it, the devices would run something close to a "pure Google" version of Android, with a limited number of non-Google apps preinstalled and an option for users to remove anything that comes preloaded by default (no baked-in bloatware -- huzzah!).

The "Silver" phones would supposedly be created to "closely adhere to Google specifications," with high-end hardware and Google working to ensure prompt software updates. All in all, the goal would be to provide a "more consistent 'Google' experience for high-end Android customers," The Information reports. Google would supposedly even foot the bill to promote the devices through ads and specially staffed in-store kiosks.

So far so good, right? It certainly sounds promising -- kind of like an expanded version of the Nexus line we know and love -- but assuming it all pans out the way it's being described, there are some big unknowns that could determine whether folks will be jumping for joy or stomping in anger at the change.

To wit:

• What type of pricing will we be looking at for these "Android Silver" phones? Part of the appeal of the Nexus program is the low off-contract price its devices typically carry. With all the talk of Google working with carriers on "Android Silver," it isn't yet clear if these phones would be offered for similarly affordable unsubsidized prices.

• For that matter, will "Android Silver" phones be sold unlocked, or will Google focus on a more traditional carrier-centric model that could reach a larger pool of shoppers? 

• Will "Android Silver" focus on devices that were designed specifically for the program -- like Nexus phones are now -- or will it revolve more heavily around alternate versions of existing devices, like what we see with Google Play Edition phones today? The two approaches tend to result in pretty different user experiences, with the latter feeling more like an afterthought than a cohesive and deliberately designed product.

• How easily hackable will "Android Silver" phones be? For a lot of tinkerers and developers, the fact that Nexus devices come with unlocked bootloaders and loads of geek-friendly resources is a major plus. If Google shifts to more of a mainstream consumer focus, will those benefits still be included?

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No question about it: There's a lot to think about here -- and a lot we simply don't know. The "Android Silver" program could definitely provide an interesting new array of high-end Android choices, but as for whether it'll be a positive change from a consumer and specifically an Android enthusiast perspective, only time will tell.

For the moment, there's one thing we can say for sure: With the prospect of "Silver" on the horizon, the future is looking anything but dull.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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