While the Nexus line has always been the defacto “go to” choice for OS enthusiasts, purists, and developers alike — much like Apple’s iPhone — it’s a very one-size fits all affair. In the case of the Nexus 6, ironically, that size might actually be a bit too large for some, but that’s another story. For those who lusted after the top-tier flagships by Samsung, HTC, Sony, or even LG but wanted a pure Google software experience, Google Play Edition devices provided users another route for pure stock goodness.
At its height, the GPe line-up included a number of different products: the HTC M7 and Galaxy S4 (the first two to be released), the Sony Xperia Z Ultra, the LG G Pad 8.2 tablet, and the HTC M8. Motorola also release the Moto G as a GPe option, though it didn’t differ much from the already lightly skinned Moto G. These products all ran the same exact software that was present on the Nexus devices, however with the duo camera present on the M8 there was a slight software modification. There’s also one other important difference: all of these devices were updated to Android Lollipop weeks ago, whereas the non-GPe versions of these devices are still all running Kitkat (with the exception of the Moto G).
2014 proved to be a disappointing year for those who wanted more GPe hardware
Unfortunately, 2014 proved to be a disappointing year for those who wanted more GPe hardware, for the M8 was the last device offered and since then we’ve seen a number of Google Play Edition devices leave the Google Play store. Now with today’s disappearance of the Google Play Edition One M8, it seems that the GPe program has finally ended. So what gives here, is the GPe program done for good? If it is gone, what exactly happened?
Some 8 months ago, we covered a report that Google was going to introduce Android Silver, effectively spelling the end of the Nexus program (a rumor that, itself, is now an entire year old). The basic idea was that the Google Play Experience and Nexus line would essentially merge into a more comprehensive, marketing-heavy approach to sales. This would allow for more than one device running the stock Android experience, in short giving us a number of Nexus-like offerings in a way that expanded upon the GPe program. Carriers would sell the devices directly, there would be money spent on advertising, and despite the near-stock software approach, anything OEMs installed via bloat would be removable without root access. Of course Google itself never confirmed any of this, much less officially acknowledged the existence of Silver. After the departure of a key staff member allegedly involved with the program, things more-or-less cooled off.
As we all know, this vision of the future never came to pass. Some say it was never going to happen, others say that all the negative talk about the rumored program caused Google to shift course. Regardless, the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 are now the future of the Nexus lineup. As for Android Silver and GPe programs? In many ways, the Nexus 6’s sale philosophy is a bit like the vision behind Android Silver, in that Google is focusing harder on marketing and carrier support. Still, it’s a limited approach since there’s only one Nexus phone.
As far as 'pure' Android hardware goes, especially that sold directly from Google, the future is more-or-less up in the air.
We can’t say why, but it seems Google is content to push the Nexus 6 as the only “Google-backed pure Android experience”, at least for the time being. Instead, Google has expressed a major interest in expanding Android to cars and televisions (the latter more of a re-start) and Android Wear is slowly but surely gaining more support. At the same time, Google Glass is seemingly on a temporary hiatus, and the modular Project Ara isn’t set to launch in a major market for the time being.
As far as “pure” hardware goes, especially that sold directly from Google, the future is more-or-less up in the air. While it’s probable that Mountain View will unleash a pair of new Nexus devices this year (a phone and tablet), it’s difficult to say what will become of the GPe program, or why there was no Galaxy S5 GPe or similar tablet last year. Given that even the Nexus smartphones can’t earn mainstream success – at least based on one report- it is highly likely the GPe products were simply deemed too expensive for the masses, or just flew off the radar entirely.
This is, of course, exactly where Android Silver was supposed to come in play, with its in-store presence. Google’s one-size-fits-all approach to the Nexus hardware can be a major detractor for those who are looking for a product in anything but the available size, and Silver would have given such options.