Google’s strategy with its Nexus line of phones has been rather uneven. The Google Nexus smartphone is the platform Google uses to launch the latest version of its operating system. It is spoken of reverently by the hardcore Android loyalist. When users complain about slow Android software updates, the response is to buy a Nexus phone. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Despite its advantages, the Google Nexus phone has had little impact on the market. The fault for this lies squarely with Google, which has failed to properly position its Nexus phone.
When Google launched its first Nexus phone, the HTC-built Nexus One, in January of 2010, it was designed to be a world beater. With a 3.7-inch WVGA AMOLED display, a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 512 MB of RAM, it incorporated what was then the cutting edge in technology.
The next iteration of the Nexus phone did not follow this trend. The Samsung-built Google Nexus S, launched in December 2010, was basically an improved version of the Samsung Galaxy S, which was by then almost six months old. In terms of appearance, it had no familial relationship with the original Nexus One. A Nexus One owner would find little reason to upgrade to a Nexus S. The Nexus S would soon be forgotten when the next generation of more powerful Android smartphones started to hit the market a few months later.
In 2011, Samsung again built the Google Nexus phone, this time named the Galaxy Nexus. The Galaxy Nexus was built from the ground up and followed the design philosophy of the Nexus One. The Galaxy Nexus incorporated a large 4.6-inch HD display and variants with LTE connectivity. The Galaxy Nexus was a cutting edge device. In terms of appearance, it shared a look with the previous Nexus S.
The current Nexus phone, the LG-built Nexus 4, released on November 2012, is essentially a downgraded version of LG Optimus G, wrapped in what is now becoming a familiar Nexus phone look. Rather than being a world beater, the Nexus 4 was designed to be sold at lower price points. On the one hand, it was a flagship class device, it incorporating the most powerful processor then available. On the other hand, LTE connectivity was deliberately disabled, giving it mid-level status.
Four Nexus phones to date. Two designed to be world beating flagship phones. The other two were based on existing handsets and better suited to compete with mid-level handsets. This results in a rather confusing product placement.
A smartphone enthusiast who wants the latest and the best technology will buy a new phone each year. This type of buyer can move from one Apple, HTC or Samsung branded phone to the next, and expect the next version to be a better device. Sometimes the next model is revolutionary, sometimes evolutionary. Either way, it is always better. With the Nexus phones, moving from one to the next can feel like lateral movement.
A Nexus One buyer, looking to upgrade in 2011, would be looking longingly at the Nexus S, but would probably wait a bit and eventually would have picked up an HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy S 2. In the following year, the Galaxy Nexus would have been a tasty enough offering for our hypothetical buyer to return to the Nexus fold. A year later, our enthusiast, with his beloved Galaxy Nexus long in the tooth, would have watched intently as Google unveiled its next Nexus device. The Nexus 4 would have disappointed many a Nexus owner by the absence of LTE. Even the happy owner of a two year old Nexus S, might balk on the Nexus 4 for the absence of LTE.
If you are an ardent Nexus fan, you are probably not a happy camper. You cannot be certain that Google will give something you would want to upgrade to. For users who like unaltered versions of Google’s Android, having to choose to move to phones with a modified version of Android because it is missing some key hardware feature they want is a less than ideal situation.
Google needs to decide what it wants to do with its Nexus phone. Is it a flagship or a value for money mid-level offering? Position it somewhere in the market and stay there. If it does not, the Nexus line will not develop a loyal user base and will continue to make up a rather insignificant share of Android smartphone sales. Ultimately, Google owes this to its Nexus owners. Each version of the Nexus phone should be a logical step forward from the previous one. This way, loyal Nexus owners, can happily stay that way.