“I just wish it ran stock Android…” These words were uttered countless times, probably enough to make Google, Samsung, and HTC sit down and find a way to make it happen. And this week it happened. Two amazing devices running unadulterated Android went on sale, and, predictably, they got everyone talking .
But the arrival of the Google Play Editions of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One wasn’t without controversy. The fact that Google will not be handling the updates, the distinction between GPe devices and Nexus devices, and other fine points are all worth discussing.
In this week’s Friday Debate, we talk about the Google Play Edition, and what they mean for the world of Android. Join us in the comments and vote in our poll!
I’m definitely a bit more so-so about the whole Google Edition idea now than I was when I first heard about it. It’s great that people can now choose the default Android experience on more devices, don’t get me wrong I love that idea, but I don’t think that providing a few high-end Google Edition smartphones was really worth the hype that had been going around.
For a start, they are too expensive as they’re not available on contract, which is going to prevent a lot of people from picking one up. Secondly, the whole “not quite a Nexus” issue is a tad worrisome too, Samsung or HTC could simply stop providing updates if it proves too much of a hassle.
Now maybe, just maybe, this will all fall nicely into place soon. What with the new “K release” rumor hinting a support for older devices and the big manufactures all cozying up to Google, this could be the testing phase for something much bigger. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new unified Android era, with better update support from manufacturers and Google? Or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part.
But for now, having a selection of high end GPE handsets is nice for those who can afford them, but, for Android as a whole, they’re just another choice in the quite frankly massive portfolio.
Google Play edition phones are great for Android and great for consumers. Here’s why.
Ever since Android phones started showing up with manufacturer user experiences, Android enthusiasts have downplayed and despised them. We’ve downplayed them, calling them skins, bloatware, and worse. An Android modding and customization community arose from hardware manufacturer “skins” with goals such as running software from the Android Open Source Project. For years, we’ve wanted to see high end phones, from the best manufacturers, running pure Android. We didn’t want their own bloated interpretation. Now, in the OEM providers defense, Android wasn’t always beautiful. However, Android has changed. Android is now beautiful and loaded with features. The Google Play Edition Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One are something we’ve been wanting for years: top end devices running stock Android. With OEM skins and custom applications gone, this should drastically improve Android update timeframes.
Sadly, hardware manufacturers aren’t the only ones able to muddy Android’s clear waters. Carriers play a big role here. Carriers add their own software packages to Android which further deters from Google’s clear interpretation of their mobile operating system. Sadly again, that’s not all carriers do. Carriers delay Android device updates. Carriers go through a long and tedious task of testing and certifying Android updates before releasing them. Google Play Edition devices completely take the carriers out of the picture. With the carriers gone, this should drastically speed up Android software updates.
Now, couldn’t you buy one of these devices from your carrier, unlock the bootloader, and run a custom ROM on it, and achieve the same experience for more than half the price? Maybe…but not quite. Google Play Edition devices are for people that wish to run stock Android, receive timely updates, and more importantly, they just want it to work out of the box the way it was intended to work. Not everyone has the time to research how to unlock the bootloader of your phone, which in some cases voids your warranty. Not everyone has the technical knowhow to install a custom ROM. The fact of the matter is, even if everyone were able to accomplish these feats, you’re still left with buggy software, waiting months for it to become stable and reliable. No one wants to show off their top end Android phone to see data connections dropped, user interface lag or have the camera force close while trying to snap a picture. We’ve all been there.
My last point, these devices were never marketed as Nexus devices. Google never said they were releasing a Galaxy S4 Nexus or an HTC One Nexus (Haha, but they did release an HTC Nexus One). They aren’t going to get the full Nexus treatment. They aren’t going to get factory images, binaries, or any of the other perks that only some people care about. These devices aren’t for people that need to flash custom ROMs on a daily basis and then revert back to stock if the need arises. These aren’t developer devices like those found in the Nexus program.
Google Play Editions are great for Android because they allow users to experience Google’s vision for Android. They take OEM software customization out of the mix and bypass the carriers entirely. Both of these should allow these devices to receive timely Android updates. How fast is timely? I can’t answer that. But, I can tell you it will be much faster than their non-Google Play Edition counterparts. Google Play Edition devices are also great for consumers because they allow consumers to experience pure Android and allows their devices to function perfectly. The fact of the matter is, these devices have a particular market and aren’t for everyone. Thankfully, Android gives us many choices.
The problem with the Google Play Edition smartphones is that they are products without a market. They were already targeted at a small niche, but unfortunately for Google the niche has already been filled. The people who would’ve bought these devices have either A) Bought a Nexus 4 and their next phone will be the Nexus 5 or B) bought the standard, subsidized versions of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One and will simply flash the stock ROM onto their devices.
There’s also the fact that these are (at least for now) strictly U.S. only devices and they are being put up for a completely unsubsidized price. U.S. consumers almost always buy their smartphones subsidized from a carrier, and very few would put down $600-650 straight up for a smartphone (even if it could cost them less in the long run). And in the markets where people do buy their smartphones unsubsidized (Asia, Europe, Australia), these devices are not available. So we’ve got a flawed business model, but it isn’t all bad.
These devices are a great base for the developer communities. No need to wait for a stable build from CyanogenMod, or for someone to fix the camera. Just go download the ROM and flash it onto your Galaxy S4 or HTC One, and voila, stock Android as easy as that.
Of course we then get to the big problem here. Since Samsung and HTC control the updates, what if HTC or Samsung decide to just drop support for their devices? Who could blame them? (well I guess I could, but that would just be mean) When they’ve got tens millions of other devices to support, it’s easy for them to say that it’s not worth supporting a few thousand devices. Hopefully this doesn’t happen and people on the standard versions of the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, get quick updates to the latest version of stock Android.
What we have to realize is that this does not mean the Nexus line has ended. Nor are these products Nexus devices, they are an addition to the already wonderfully colorful world that is Android. And that’s what really matters folks — choice! But seriously Samsung, I’m still waiting for the time when I hear the horrible S-Voice say “Would you like Stock Android or TouchWiz with your fire breathing smartphone, sir?”
We got exactly what we asked for.
I’ve already covered this in an article, but it’s a great topic for this forum as well. It’s clear that many of us have conflicting reasoning behind our support for, or distaste of, the “Google Play Edition” devices. If we take a look at what Google has given us, this whole program is going exactly how it should.
I’ll use myself as an example. I don’t like skinned devices. Touchwiz, Sense, whatever… I just don’t like them. So, I now have something that absolves me of most carrier involvement with the UI. The program works.
Secondly, I want updates in a timely fashion. Verizon customers can attest to this more than most; carriers only complicate the fragmentation issue. So, I have a device that only needs to go through a manufacturer for an update. The program works.
Third, I don’t want a contract. I can go to the Play Store, purchase the device I want, and go prepaid. The program works.
To further hammer home +Derek Ross ‘s point, these are not Nexus devices. These are HTC and Samsung devices. A Nexus device is an RFP adjudicated by an OEM, nothing more. Google supports those devices, because they pretty much designed them. These two “Google Play Edition” phones are not that. The manufacturers aren’t providing Nexus devices, they’re providing their hardware free of their take on Android. As such, they need to support them, not Google.
That leads into pricing. These devices are fair market price for an unlocked device. If $600+ seems like too much to spend, that’s because we don’t do it. Many of us are content to lock ourselves into a contract to spend less out of pocket for a device. Many of us would be able to save a lot of money purchasing the device outright, and going prepaid. When you have a manufacturer, who really only makes money by turning a profit on a device, you get a $600 price tag.
Now we can talk about the entirety of smartphones available in the Play Store. We want an unlocked phone, for little out of pocket, the latest version of Android, and respectable hardware. We already had that in the Nexus 4. Like it or not, for what we were asking of Google, they had already provided it.
Get with the program.
Are you satisfied with the Google Play Edition program?
Join us in the comments and vote in our poll.