A few days ago, Google formally unveiled the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Edition with pure Android. It’s a modified version of the flagship Samsung handset that we first saw announced back in March, and it stands to offer the standard Nexus user experience. What does this mean for Google’s actual line of Nexus phones? Is the Galaxy S4 with pure Android meant to replace them?
I’m not sure how long Google and Samsung sat through negotiations to try and get a product like this out the door. I think it may have been a long time coming. But it makes so much sense that you have to wonder, why didn’t they do this sooner? In fact, why don’t all Android phone makers release a Nexus-like device of their own? It simply baffles the mind.
What we have with the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Edition is a device with absolute top-notch hardware paired with the best software that Android has to offer. It is, strictly speaking, one of the best Android phones ever — at least if you’re with T-Mobile and AT&T. The only thing that will keep it out of most people’s hands is its prohibitive price tag. And that’s where real Nexus devices have it beat.
Still, it makes a truly compelling case for an upgrade or a switch. It’s exactly what a lot of people want: a top-of-the-line phone with the latest version of Android. And it will be updated to even later versions of Android when newer ones start coming out. If Google wants to stop making new Nexus phones like the highly rumored Nexus 5, then the Galaxy S4 with pure Android is the perfect excuse. The question is, would Google really go that far?
The maker of the current Google Nexus phone, LG Electronics, managed to snag a mere 3% of the global Android market in Q1 2013. This shows that adding high-end hardware and timely Android software updates together doesn’t always result in a killer combination. The Nexus 4 does have a few glaring faults — such as lack of microSD card support and lack of 4G LTE — that might have contributed to its weak sales. But it really should have sold more units and the bottom line is that it didn’t.
Google’s end-game is, as we all know, to get Android into the hands of as many people as possible. So it makes sense for it to partner with the current market leader, Samsung. And as for why it was necessary to inject an already existing phone with Nexus DNA instead of delivering a new one with actual Nexus branding (which they’ve already done in the past)? Well, the Galaxy brand is a much bigger brand than Nexus. It has more clout, and might possibly lead to bigger sales which would then translate to Android getting into the hands of more and more people.
Google’s Nexus effort, as a whole, doesn’t appear to have been very successful. On the other hand, Samsung’s Galaxy brand has been a huge success. Only last week, an exec at Samsung declared the Galaxy S4 to be the fastest-selling Samsung handset ever. It’s on track to hit the 10 million unit sales point by the end of this month. And now we have this, a pure Android version of the same smartphone. Can you imagine what will happen next?
In all likelihood, the standard Galaxy S4 — with TouchWiz and all — will go on to sell many millions more after the end of May. And all the other people who have been keeping an eye out for a true high-end phone with stock Android can now set their sights on the Galaxy S4 Google Edition, which of course in the end means even more sales for Samsung yet again.
The mere existence of the Galaxy S4 Google Edition solves a number of problems all at once. It takes care of the Galaxy S4 storage problem because removing TouchWiz and all the extra software features that come along with it means less storage space is taken up by “system apps.” It also ensures that Android users have a chance to really enjoy the best of the Android software, because the hardware in the Galaxy S4 is more than capable of supporting pretty much everything (except worldwide carrier support, of course, at least for now). Developers will also benefit because now they can treat this phone like a special developer version of the Galaxy S4 (it comes with an unlocked bootloader).
The Galaxy S4 Google Edition shows that Google is starting to finally get it. Google took a phone from Samsung and made it go from great to greater. Now, ongoing software support can help ensure that it sells fairly well despite the high price tag. But where does this leave Google’s Nexus line of smartphones?
If Google has plans of retiring the Nexus phone, now is the right time to do it. It just put the word out on a Nexus-ified version of one of the most advanced handsets ever, plus as we all know, it is supposed to be working on other high profile projects, such as its first smartwatch as well as the upcoming (still rumored) Motorola X Phone (not to mention Google Glass). Android phone makers are doing a good enough job of producing great models, and the world certainly doesn’t need more Nexus phones. If anything, there needs to be less phones with Android to cut out the issue of fragmentation.
The decision to release the Galaxy S4 Google Edition may be part of an experiment to see how the market reacts. If successful, we may never see another Nexus branded smartphone from Google ever again.