Android fans following the Nexus news today know that Google has unveiled a bunch of new products, all ready to run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean right out of the box, including the LG Nexus 4, the Samsung Nexus 10 and the Asus Nexus 7 (32GB Wi-Fi and 32GB Wi-Fi+3G version).
Now that we have specs and features for all these devices, we can’t but wonder why the new flagship Google Nexus smartphone lacks 4G LTE support, which is becoming almost a must-have feature on new smartphones and tablets, even though 4G LTE adoption is still limited, with a larger footprint available in the U.S. where major carriers have started deploying the next-gen communication technology way ahead of their international counterparts. Moreover, Android handsets are all the more expected to support LTE, especially high-end ones such as the Nexus 4, because the first LTE handsets released by Verizon in the first months of 2011 where Android-powered ones.
Fast forward to more than a year later and even the iPhone 5, launched just over a month ago, comes with 4G LTE support for various markets, including U.S. carriers but also international mobile operators.
So why isn’t the Nexus 4 featuring LTE? In short, it’s the carrier’s fault, or better said, Google’s need to make the device available in as many markets as soon as possible, without having to compromise with mobile operators on availability dates or future Android OS updates.
As The Verge explains, Google preferred to make the Nexus 4 HSPA+ ready, and thus capable to operate on most cellular networks, instead of having to deal with carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon in the USA, to create LTE versions of it. Among the drawbacks, launch delays have been quoted, but also the carriers' requirement to control Android updates, with Verizon being a prime example in that particular topic – the Verizon Galaxy Nexus Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update took more than three months to arrive.
Is this a step backwards for the Nexus 4 at a time when its rivals are coming with LTE support? Yes and no.
Yes, because 4G LTE is the way to go for smartphones and tablets, no matter what OS they run.
But since LTE has a limited footprint, globally speaking, and since it’s pretty expensive too, users won’t necessarily complain about the lack of 4G LTE support right away. Hopefully future Nexus generations will not lack real 4G speeds. Not to mention that selling the handset unlocked, for an affordable price, could help Google convert more users to Nexus devices, and improve the timeliness of its Android updates, thus partly solving one of Android's problems, fragmentation.
Google’s Android chief tried to explain the decision of not including an LTE chip in the Nexus 4 by mentioning battery life and costs concerns, but the fact is that some of those reasons better apply to 2011 devices rather than fresh new smartphones and tablets, so we have to call bullshit where bullshit is being served to us:
Android head Andy Rubin calls the lack of LTE a “tactical issue,” and cites cost and battery life as major concerns with devices that have to support multiple radios. “A lot of the networks that have deployed LTE haven't scaled completely yet — they're hybrid networks [...] which means the devices need both radios built into them,” he said. “When we did the Galaxy Nexus with LTE we had to do just that, and it just wasn't a great user experience.” But the reality now is that many LTE devices — including the iPhone 5 and the LG Optimus G, which shares common hardware with the Nexus 4 — use larger batteries and newer, more efficient chips to balance the power draw from LTE.
Andy Rubin put it this way: “Tactically, we want to make sure the devices are available for every network on the planet.” For now, that means that the Nexus 4 will only be available as an unlocked HSPA+ device. Whether the fault lies more with carriers for forcing Google’s hand or with Google for refusing to work within the standard carrier model, the end result is a flagship phone that’s missing an essential flagship feature.
It’s pretty clear that unlike Apple, Google doesn’t have the upper hand in negotiations with carriers, at least not yet. But hopefully that will change in the future, otherwise Google will have no choice but to give in to (some of) their demands. As for carriers, they can afford not to have the latest Nexus smartphone in stock but still offer plenty of carrier-customized Android devices to interested consumers. In fact, one U.S. Apple vs Samsung trial reveals that Galaxy Nexus sales in the USA have been minimal, and therefore the device didn't really pose a threat to the iPhone – that's actually part of the Samsung defense against Apple's injunction request. That’s the downside of Android being an open source mobile operating system, when dealing with carriers and their needs. And for the sake of the discussion, the same mobile operators can’t afford not to sell the iPhone, while simultaneously complaining about the huge iPhone subsidies.
Let’s hear from potential Nexus 4 buyers! Is the lack of 4G LTE connectivity a deal breaker for you?