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Fourth-gen Google Nexus smartphone coming by the end of the year?

July 17, 2012

The Google Nexus 7 is out in stores and it’s selling like hot cakes. We’ve seen this happen before when the Kindle Fire was launched – an affordable device ready to offer plenty of features and lots of digital content choices to tablet buyers. But now the Nexus 7 is the king of 7-inch tablets, considering what it has to offer in terms of both hardware and software. Sure, Amazon will come out with a new Kindle Fire version, and Apple is rumored to bring out of hiding its 7.85-inch iPad Mini later this year, at which point the competition in the small affordable tablet business will get even more ferocious.

And don’t think that other Android tablet makers will just sit by and watch the fight from the sidelines, because they surely won’t. Which brings me to the obvious question, what other hardware will Google release this year? Will the company prepare a bigger tablet for a later announcement? Or is Google focusing on the next logical move, the fourth-generation Google Nexus smartphone?

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and current Chairman of the company, said a few days ago that Google is interested in making hardware. Moreover, a distant report suggested that Google will work with several Android device makers to release up to five new Jelly Bean-running Nexus-branded devices this year. We already have two of them, the Nexus 7 and the Nexus Q, which leaves room for three or four more, depending whether we’re really counting the Q ball or not. Not to mention that Google has its own hardware-making subsidiary, which is yet to produce any Nexus device.

So will we see a Google (Motorola) Nexus smartphone this winter? To answer that question, let’s see what history has taught us!

The Nexus smartphones

So far, Google launched three Nexus-branded smartphones, one made by HTC and the other two created by Samsung. The Nexus smartphones are supposed to deliver Google’s Android message to the world. End-users, Android makers and developers have a chance to see how Android should look and feel on a smartphone.

But at the end of the day, it’s just end-users and developers that really profit from Nexus smartphones, while smartphone makers, in cahoots with carriers, prefer to keep selling devices with their own modded Android version on top and filled with crapware apps from mobile operators, a move that’s partly responsible for the existing Android fragmentation – although that’s a story for a different day.

HTC Nexus One

Hot on the heels of the Motorola Droid – the phone that started the Android revolution in late 2009 – HTC came out with the Nexus One in the first days of 2010, a phone that was seen as a great iPhone 3GS competitor. The Nexus One ran Android 2.1 Eclair and was sold by T-Mobile. And it come with some annoying 3G issues which were never really solved – Google, HTC and T-Mobile pretty much shifted the blame from one to the other.

Unfortunately the Nexus One was never meant to become a best-selling device – in the U.S. Verizon and Sprint decided not to launch the handset despite previously announcing they would carry it. The Nexus One slowly faded away as hotter and hotter Android handsets came along. In fact, once Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was released, we found out that the device was not upgradeable to the new Android OS anymore.

Samsung Nexus S

In late 2010 Google came out with the Nexus S, it’s second Nexus smartphone, a device that was made by Samsung – the smartphone was not called the Nexus Two because, legend has it, Samsung is second to no one. This happened a few months after Eric Schmidt stated that the Nexus One was basically a one time deal.

At the time, it was logical to assume that Google will partner up with a different OEM for each new Nexus device and that it was Samsung’s turn to make it.

The Nexus S was, logically, a much better device than the Nexus One when it comes to hardware, and it included, among other specs and features, NFC support, with the device becoming a foundation for Google’s upcoming Google Wallet mobile payment solution – another yet to become popular Google project.

The phone launched with Android 2.3 Gingerbread on board and is upgradeable to Jelly Bean.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The Nexus Prime was the codename of the third Google Nexus smartphone that was released in mid-December last year, after a pretty long and unexplained launch delay in the USA.

Google chose Samsung again to make the handset, and while we have no details on the motives behind this decision we can only assume that both companies had good reasons to continued the Nexus partnership, a move that made them both a little cooler by association. On one hand, we have Google partnering up with the creator of the Galaxy S devices, a family of smartphones very appreciated by Android buyers seeking high-end handsets. On the other hand, we have Samsung pairing up with Google and thus becoming a stronger force in the Android ecosystem, and in the mobile environment in general, since it was the company to produce, for the second time in a row, a new Nexus handset.

Companies like Motorola, LG and HTC were left behind even though at the time the first Nexus Prime rumors came out, Google’s plans to purchase Motorola were no secret anymore.

The Galaxy Nexus did not become the iPhone 4S killer Google would have wanted it to be, even though it’s still a popular choice for Android smartphone buyers.

Google-Motorola Intel devices?

In case you haven’t noticed, Google decided not to go with Motorola when choosing a Nexus device maker. That happened twice in a row now, with the Galaxy Nexus smartphone and with the Nexus 7 tablet.

The Search giant kept telling the press that it won’t give preferential treatment to Motorola once its $12.5 billion purchase is completed. And maybe the company wanted to prove that it meant what it said by launching two Nexus devices in seven months, each one made by a different company, Samsung and Asus, respectively.

Google even went ahead and said, via Andy Rubin, that Asus was the best choice for its Nexus 7 tablet needs, which is somewhat a strange remark to make when you own Motorola, a company that does know how to build mobile devices – granted it still has to learn to keep them secret and market them properly.

So while the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 7 were coming out, Motorola did what it knows best: it launched a variety of interesting Android devices, under the RAZR and Atrix brands, and a couple of tablets of its own. But the company must be working on some sort of new devices that would be launched this year.

We have not forgotten that Motorola and Intel announced a partnership at CES 2012, and by now we would have expected to see the first Medfield-based Motorola handsets in stores.

Could the fourth-generation Nexus smartphone be made by Motorola and pack Intel insides?

Intel would certainly appreciate making such an entrance in the mobile business – sure, there already are at least two Medfield-based devices in stores, but a Nexus-branded smartphone would help Intel immensely. After all, it’s no secret that Intel wants a piece of the mobile business, and what better way to impress the crowds than by having its mobile chips inside a Nexus flagship smartphone. But, and there’s a big But here, Intel’s platform only supports single-core processors at this time, and Intel has voiced its concerns regarding dual- and multi-core use in Android devices. Would Google settle with a single-core processor on a high-end Nexus smartphone at a time when everyone else is shipping their devices with dual- and quad-core CPUs on board?

That’s of course if Google doesn’t decide to continue its partnership with Samsung, or go with other companies when making the next Nexus device. Although, how long will Google take until it starts mass-producing smartphones with Motorola? Whatever the company will say, the fact still remains that Google has just become a competitor to its Android device-making partners. Samsung, HTC, LG, Asus, and all the other Android smartphone and tablet makers out there can’t compete with Google when it comes to launching devices like the Nexus 7 because these companies don’t also own the same digital content stores that would help them generate revenue from an Android device sold at cost.

How long before Google introduces a mid- to high-end Android device, made with Motorola, that’s budget friendly? Sure, it makes sense to assume that Google would want, at some point in the future, to offer cheaper smartphones to potential buyers and thus beat the pricing structure from competing companies, namely Apple, whose iPhone brings in boatloads of cash quarter after quarter. And the price of the iPhone doesn’t change until a new generation rolls out, burning the pockets of carriers in the process. But in the process, Google could also hurt its partners by forcing them to compete with cheaper Nexus devices and thus shave off their margins.

With all that in mind, it will certainly be interesting to see what company will make the upcoming Nexus smartphone, in case the device is coming this winter.

Are there any Cons?

But what if winter is coming without a new Nexus? We’ve seen a new Nexus device arrive in late 2010 and late 2011, each one coming with a new Android OS version on board. The Nexus S packed Android 2.3 Gingerbread while the Galaxy Nexus ran Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

nexus 7 vs kindle fire

But Google was forced to unveil Android 4.1 Jelly Bean a little earlier this year, and the OS will be available on various devices by the time a new Nexus-brand smartphone would be launched, a smartphone meant to showcase Google’s next-gen Android plans. So would it make sense for the company to launch a smartphone of its own running a not-new-anymore operating system?

First let’s explain why Google was forced to come out with Jelly Bean in summer rather than fall. The company needed a new OS for its brand new Nexus 7 tablet – launching the device with ICS on board would have probably worked out well for the company, but Google wanted to release a complete package that had to include a brand new shiny mobile OS version. And Google did not have time to wait until fall/winter to come out with the Nexus 7, as the company needed to fix that pestering Kindle Fire problem as fast as possible – remember that Google and Asus explained they went from Nexus 7 planning to mass production in just four months, that’s how in a hurry Google was to launch a new affordable tablet.

So then, I reiterate my last question, would Google want to launch the fourth Nexus smartphone running only Jelly Bean? Because Android 5.0 is not likely to launch this winter. Not so long ago, but at a time Google was rolling out new Android version after new Android version, Google promised that it will slow down the number of major updates it releases each year.

Not to mention that launching Android 5.0 in just a few months from now would certainly cause a garden variety of problems for end-users, OEMs, carriers and developers. Let’s not forget that after 7 months, ICS is yet to get a comfortable share of the existing Android handsets (currently it’s at over 10%), and I don’t think the Jelly Bean update will go any smoother. Having Key Lime Pie – that’s what Android 5.0 is called – come out this winter would cause plenty of problems, even that’s even if Google announced that Android PDK tool that should help OEMs better adapt to major OS rollouts.

It’s all speculation!

Even so, Google must launch some sort of Nexus-branded devices later this year and that seems to be the most logical conclusion. The iPhone is coming, and the company should at least try to compete against it with a new Nexus-branded handset, possibly made by Motorola.

Not to mention that it would seem like a complete waste of resources owning Motorola and not making at least one new piece of Nexus-branded hardware with the company. Hopefully, Google did not purchase the former telecommunications giant only for the huge patent arsenal it had under its belt – and that patent portfolio is not really that helpful either, as Google is hardly able to fight the companies targeting Android with patent suits, and most importantly Apple, with the patents obtained following the Motorola purchase.

So if we were to predict Google’s hardware-making future we would say that new Nexus devices should be available by the end of this year, with at least one fourth-generation Nexus-branded handset in (Google Play) stores by Christmas, no matter what potential tensions and frictions some of these purported new Nexus devices may cause if made by Moto.

But it’s also important to remember that Google is not really revealing any details about its future Nexus plans and we only have bits and pieces from various rumors and reports to look at right now.

While we wait for Google to give us more puzzle pieces, why don’t you join the speculation and let us know what you think about Google’s future Nexus plans? Will Google launch its fourth-generation Nexus smartphone this winter or not – what say you?

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