In Hollywood, sequels always have to be bigger and better than their predecessors. Google seems to agree. According to a new report by WSJ, Google is planning to change its strategy with new Android releases. In the past, it has worked with one manufacturer — Motorola, HTC, and Samsung are favorites so far — to create a single Google ‘Nexus’ branded phone or tablet. With the upcoming Android 5.0 (codenamed “Jelly Bean”), Google will offer a ‘portfolio’ of Nexus phones and tablets from as many as five manufacturers. If that’s not a big enough change, Google will also sell them all directly to consumers (you and me) through the new Devices section of the Google Play store.
The change in direction is huge, putting Google’s strategy more in line with the likes of Microsoft, which attempts to launch new versions of Windows and Windows Phone with a flurry of new devices. Though Google has made great strides improving the design and performance of Android, it is still taking manufacturers anywhere from 3-12+ months to upgrade their devices to the newest version of Android. For example, with Android 4.0, Google worked with Samsung to create the Galaxy Nexus. This is a fantastic phone, but even now, five months later, it remains one of the only Android 4.0 phones available. New devices are only starting to trickle out with Google’s updated operating system. The slowness isn’t hurting it now, but could hinder Android when stiffer competition, like Microsoft’s Windows 8, enter’s the market.
The one thing that separates Android from other operating systems like Windows is that Google offers it for free to anyone (or any company) who wants to use it. Android is an open-source project. Anyone can download it and modify it however they like. But making it free has lead to most manufacturers tinkering around with it as they please, sometimes to the benefit of users, sometimes not.
By offering early versions of Android to more manufacturers, Google can insist that they implement ‘vanilla’ or clean versions of Android, devoid of the confusing and ‘fragmenting’ user interface modifications that have become commonplace in almost all devices. It can also expand its Nexus branding enough so that more consumers know that the best Android tablets and smartphones are those branded with Google’s Nexus.
Selling through Google Play
Though Google supposedly plans to sell new devices directly through its Google Play online store, we assume it will also allow manufacturers to sell these devices in stores like Best Buy, or strike deals up with carriers as well. The attempt to directly sell phones is also likely a covert attempt to break or weaken the incredible amount of control US carriers have over the distribution of phones.
In many European countries and other regions of the world, people buy their phones separately from their phone carriers, but in the US, wireless carriers have tightly bundled phones with two-year contracts, giving consumers a discount on a device in exchange for a guarantee that they’ll remain a customer for 24 months. This model hides the costs of phones, lowering their price from $600 or $700 to $200 or $300, but ends in customers paying much more for their wireless service and being locked in to contracts for years.
Google tried to directly sell its Nexus One device back in 2010, but was thwarted by the wireless carriers, who disliked the idea. It’s good to see Google not giving up on its idea. AmazonWireless may soon have some stiff competition.
Will the strategy work?
It sounds like a great idea to us. We can’t imagine that carrier’s are happy about Google selling more devices through their website, but carriers have begun to allow companies like Amazon to sell contracted phones online and retailers like Best Buy have made big inroads selling devices from all carriers. In addition, the idea of a no-contract phone is a bit more acceptable today than it was a couple years ago. We imagine that manufacturers are quite happy to be able to work more closely with Google and compete to have a new Android 5.0 device on the day the platform is unveiled, even if they have to give up a little in the way of branding and user interface customization. Most of all, this could lead to a lot more quality Android products on the market at more competitive prices. To us, that’s a good thing.