Why doesn’t every manufacturer make a Nexus-like device?

by: Andrew GrushMay 17, 2013

Google-IO-Galaxy S4 Google Edition Hugo Barra 1600 aa

Some folks love customized skins like HTC Sense and TouchWiz. They feel that these customization add extra value, or that they simply look or work ‘better’ than stock.

For those of us that don’t have the same love for custom skins, we pretty much have two options: flash a custom ROM or get a Nexus device. That’s just the way it is, as most manufacturers continue to ignore vanilla Android. The big question is why.

TouchWiz is at the heart of Samsung’s mobile strategy, but that didn’t stop Google from announcing a version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 that runs on vanilla Android.

Pure Android runs faster, gets quicker updates and arguably looks better too. Not to mention there isn’t a bunch of bloat taking up more space on your phone.

The demand is there, at least from the hardcore crowd. So why haven’t more vendors ditched their custom skins?

Setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack

The most obvious reason is that it gives manufacturers an easy way to make their devices different from the rest of the crowd. Without Sense or TouchWiz, HTC and Samsung would have little to set themselves apart from each other  outside of specs and design aesthetics.

For devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4, it is also about creating custom software that allows the use of specialized hardware that isn’t recognized by Android in its default form. It remains unseen right now, but it is possible that some of the GS4’s special features won’t work with stock Android.

Once upon a time, a case could very well be made stating that custom UIs made Android “look and feel better”. That was in the days of Android 1.x and 2.x – a lot has changed with Android ICS and Jelly Bean, and Android has now matured into a very beautiful stock experience.

The partnership factor

Custom software allows the vendor more control over the experience, too. They can use this control to rollout updates at their own pace – and delay some updates, if needed, in order to push users towards newer devices.

They can also work with partners to put on bloatware special apps like Facebook, though obviously they could still do that with vanilla Android, it just wouldn’t be ‘true stock’.

I could certainly be wrong, but I have a feeling that a manufacturer’s custom UI and software generates profit through these kinds of deals that goes way beyond just the money made from selling the device to customers.

The carrier factor

Creating a stock Android phone isn’t enough to win over buyers, it also needs to be unlocked and modder-friendly. The problem with that is that carriers HATE unlocked bootloaders. Carriers such as Verizon give plenty of official reasons why they want to prevent you from unlocking bootloaders such as “giving you better customer service” and “protecting your devices”.

The reality is that that carriers often have specialized software that they don’t want you removing. They also are concerned that custom ROMs could somehow be used “against the network” or could allow you to bypass guards they use to prevent things like tethering without a special plan.

Bottom-line, carriers would be less receptive of manufacturers that pushed Nexus-like devices. Of course that argument doesn’t completely hold water either – considering the Nexus 4 is currently available directly from T-Mobile. Both Sprint and Verizon also once carried the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Google-IO-Galaxy S4 Google Edition price 1600 aa

So what’s standing in the way of more Nexus-like devices?

All of the factors listed above are understandable, but remember: this doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” game.

Manufacturers could easily do exactly what Samsung is doing with the GS4, release a Nexus-like variant alongside a customized UI-based model. Even if carriers weren’t interested, they could always take to Google Play or their own websites to sell their stock Android phones.

Okay, but then what is really standing in the way of more Nexus-like devices? The unknown.

The Nexus line has been extremely successful so far, but a large part of that could be due to Google’s aggressive pricing, especially with the Nexus 4. With the Samsung Galaxy S4 “Google Edition”, the same kind of price cuts aren’t present. That makes the GS4 an important experiment.

Will hardcore Android fans still flock to it? If they do, I suspect that more vendors will be actively interested in creating their own Nexus-like devices, whether they sell them through Google Play or not.

How about it, would you be willing to pay full price for bloat-free vanilla Android versions of devices like the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z? Do you already plan on snagging the vanilla Android version of the Galaxy S4?

  • Clayton Burkholder

    Yes I would, if I could have purchased a GS3 ‘nexus’ I personally prefer the stock android.

    • Melina M

      That’s basically what the Galaxy Nexus was.

      • Yeah, Galaxy Nexus is one a hell of a sexy device, it was mostly there with GS3. For the most of the time you had an option to buy GNex (;

        EDIT: Uups, replied to a wrong person, but it’s in a thread anyway so it’s fine i guess.

  • Jaime Lefebvre

    It seems to me that there is no point of buying the GS4 at full price. It will probably be easily unlocked and rooted. A sys dump from the Vanilla S4 will enable all those who want pure Android to Rom it onto their phone and still keep their subsidized priced carrier S4.

    If I was still into renewing my contract, that’s what I would do.

    • HitokiriX

      Some people like to keep their warranty.

      • if you know what you’re doing, and something goes wrong, you can always flash it back to locked and bloated and “keep your warranty,” so that is definitely not it.

  • webster miller

    I find it comical when someone rationalizes that skins help separate the mfgs from one another. You know what would truly separate one mfg from all the others. Only releasing stock Android phones with a promise of fast updates.

    • No if everyone did that, they’d all be the same

      • HitokiriX

        Then it’d be about to made the best designs and offered the best hardware like PCs and notebooks

        • It could be a little more boring that way. How many phone designs can you really make. Not that I don’t understand what you are saying

        • TheMimic12

          Yes, but that doesn’t always work anyway, especially for the manufacturers themselves. Custom UIs add features and special software that delineate from everyone. Stock is great, but OEMs are always looking for that something more.

          • HitokiriX

            Yea and i completely understand that, just saying overall to me, their hardware entices me more than their UIs. Especially HTC

      • HitokiriX

        Then it’d be about to made the best designs and offered the best hardware like PCs and notebooks

  • I want to buy it just to support the idea, and hopefully more brands will make these.

  • just one question…. will the nexus(ed) S4 support all the same features and sensors that the normal s4?

    • HitokiriX

      I assume the software won’t be there but the hardware will. It’ll just be a matter of time before people start creating apps to simulate that of Samsung’s own TouchWiz

    • i guess the nexus(ed) s4 would just like be any phone but what samsung could do is refer users to the samsung app store and let users download those apps that would make use of the sensors.

      would be good for samsung. would also be good for users and google too.

  • Ruzveh

    If it is bringing an overall better experience then why not? Most of the people are already paying high price for buying the device then why would we hesitate to buy the same with GE when we r rest assured that we will get regular upgrades without waiting for long

  • I Like it, however it just isn’t in my budget and from the negative reports i’ve seen it seems like a risky investment going with an s4.

  • What would set oems apart? Except looking different and minor differences in hardware? Nothing… What makes people buy galaxy phones are the ‘special features’ or as some say bloatware… It’s what you can advertise. If you didn’t have all these “gimicky” features, what would you advertise?

    I just feel that justifying vanilla android with it runs ‘smoother’ isn’t enough. But there should be Nexus devices, at least for the quick updates.

  • Infinite7154

    I would definitely jump on the GE S4 if I didn’t already have the N4. It has all the things that people complained and said the N4 was lacking: sd card slot, removable battery, LTE and a great camera. I just can’t justify spending another $650 on a phone when I just spent $350 on my N4 back in February.

  • Oli72

    pure google rocks.

  • Will Stewart

    One of the main selling points of an Android phone is the features that OEMs have added on top.

    • Arsenal™

      really? Touchwhiz? Sense?
      may be for some but not for me

      • Will Stewart

        Yeah, I understand the appeal if stock but I actually really like some of the multi-tasking features on TouchWiz & the simplicity offered by HTC Sense.

    • I think you are right. The general masses think wow, s health sounds cool. Or that air view thing is cool. Doesn’t help saying “oh the s4 runs stock Android and it has this screen and this Ram, a lot of people don’t get ghz and ram…

      • TheMimic12

        Usually people only care about that looking for PCs

  • Henry Healy

    Well, it’s pretty obvious as to why they all do it, because there’d be no differentiation. However, if they did this with a One instead of the S4, I’d sell my One and buy the Nexus version in an instant.

    • Does anyone buy phones based on the skin over Android they offer?
      I sincerely doubt that. I don’t know anyone, nor have seen anyone on the internet that claimed they went with the HTC One because of Sense, or with the GS4 because of TouchWiz.

      • I think subconsciously people do buy Samsung for touchwiz. It’s what Samsung advertises and what draws the general masses.

      • lil bit

        But you see many who went with Xperia Z because it has a clean ui without forced bloat.

        My bro bought S4 this week, I expected him to only talk about its advantages but turned out he was too surprised to find only 8gb storage and could barely talk about anything else than that.

  • Max Luong

    Create an HTC One with stock Android and I will throw my wallet at the screen.

  • taz89

    Personally don’t see what’s so great about stock other than having the latest updates early.. For me stock lacks things that skin brings like a great camera… Stock camera compared to Samsung camera is night and day.. I have the nexus 7 and stock doesn’t take advantage of the larger screen like tw does with its split screen apps floating apps etc.. Also people say stock is so fast and smooth but my nexus 7 has a lot of slowdowns but I’ll blame that on the rubbish tegra 3 lol.. As for people who complain about the price there’s nothing to ccomplain about.. This is the usual price for a just released High end phone with no contract.. I feel some People compare contract price of 199 to a no contract price of 650

  • Alex Tortolano

    I am looking forward to the release is the next Nexus. BUT (huge but) got to compare the S4 with the Nexus 5 and see if the hardware is compare able enough to overlook the fact that it is rumored to not have SD support. Can’t beat adding 64gb to a devise. I currently have a S3 running JellyBam.

  • Lil bit

    Xperia z is already nearly bloat free, and if one need more then the AOSP project is advancing fast. I believe an Xperia z running AOSP is more realistic than Google S4 if you live outside USA, could be Q4 before we see Google Galaxy S4 in rest of the world. Maybe Samsung will not allow Google to sell it outside of USA at all.

  • So for the price of one S4 from the Play store, I could buy a 16GB Nexus 4, a dock, a car charger, an Otterbox, and ten cups of coffee. Good pricing, Sammy.

    • TheMimic12

      And yet that Nexus 4 (don’t get me wrong, I love it) doesn’t have LTE support, or an SD card slot, or that larger, higher-res display. Personally, it’s just in if you don’t mind giving that up to save some cash. I live in an area where T-mobile hasn’t brought their 4G network yet, but AT&T is already well-established, so the 4G and 4G LTE in the GS4 in very much appreciated

      • I can respect that. However, I live in an area that gets great T-Mobile 4G (HSPA+) speeds as well as their new LTE networks. Having the extra speed of the GS4 would be nice, as well as that ultra high-res display, but they aren’t enough for me. The one main thing that would attract me to buy a GS4 is that it has micro SD capability compared to the Nexus 4’s very limited storage. The GS4 is a GREAT device, but for that price, I can’t agree with it. It’s already the most expensive device in the Play Store.

  • TheMimic12

    I’d buy it for sure. The only reason I wouldn’t would be if I could get a 32 or 64 gb version. then i’d compile a vanilla ROM for my GS4. however, the fact that the updates come OTA on this one are nice, though…

  • APai

    screw the carriers. we need more manufacturers to get onto pure android. its better that way! everyone should have a pure android by default and have a extra “skin pack” that the users could enable. just sayin….

    pure android ftw

  • This isn’t the question to pose to us tech geeks.

    This a question that you pose to the people in your life who *aren’t* techies. Everyday people who, all they are about is what the phone can do for them.

    If you hand your grandparents a phone, whether Nexus or otherwise, which phone would THEY prefer using? The phone that’s easiest for *them* to figure out, without some techie showing them this or that.

    They want a phone that just works, and works well. They’re not gonna root the device, nor will they spend the time or even care to. Sorry to say but we do not represent the majority of people who buy phones.

    It’s the people who think that doing all these gee-whiz stuff with gadgets are a waste of time, and shouldn’t we be doing something more useful and productive than fiddling with a phone? You know…those people. They outnumber us. And THEY are the ones who make the difference, though it pains me to say it.

  • San Chip

    I don’t get it.
    How will the S4’s eye tacking work without modifications to the stock android? Does that mean that Google has made such advanced eye tracking embedded into stock android as well?

  • Yes this is a great experiment. Samsung probably did it in order to test the waters to see how strong their software is against Android. If they see that people just buy the touchwiz version regardless, it may pave the way for them to dump touchwiz altogether and make the jump to Tizen. If the response is strong towards Android, they may abandon Tizen and/or offer Tizen as the default device and offer the Android version through Google Play. Either way, the longer they wait, the more entrenched their customers are going to be in Google play and thus Android.