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Killing the Nexus: should Android Silver take its place?

Recently a report has surfaced claiming that Google is preparing a new initiative called Android Silver, which is designed to take the Nexus line's place. Is this a good move for Google?
May 2, 2014
Google Nexus 5 black aa 13

On this Friday Debate, we take a look at the rumors regarding Android Silver and how it reportedly will replace the Nexus series. From our current understanding, the Silver program is Google’s attempt to take the ideas behind the Nexus and Google Play Edition series and bring them to mainstream users. This includes a real marketing push, as well as a wide level of carrier support.

This has us wondering, where do you see Google going with this initiative? Does it make sense for the company to end the Nexus line in favor of a more mainstream-friendly series of devices? Join the discussion below and answer our poll.

Lanh Nguyen

Hopefully the Nexus line doesn’t go anywhere. While I’m not sure if there’s still a purpose for the Nexus line there’s still many things that make it special which is why people like it. Prompt software updates, top notch hardware for half the price, and a pure Android experience.

If Silver were to happen I hope they don’t axe the Nexus line because of it. Many Nexus fans would be disappointed and from what I’ve read about Silver it doesn’t sound like a viable replacement for Nexus. If anything, it sounds like an attempt to bring the online store of Google Play Edition devices into carrier stores with the addition of some benefits.

Bobby Situkangpoles

This is something I’ve been pondering about for the last couple of days. Will Android Silver continue the Nexus line’s disruptive pricing strategy or not? From what we know so far it could very likely go both ways.

On the surface, the mention of Android Silver devices being “premium” and will be offered through carriers might indicate that Google is doing away with the focus on aggressive pricing. However, there is no statement that says that these premium devices will carry premium price tags. There is also no mention about not selling these devices directly to consumers.

If we think about it further, although having an aggressive price point might not mean much for consumers should Android Silver devices be sold on contract through the carriers, a lower unit price can entice carriers to promote sales because a 350 bucks phone sold at 199 dollars will yield more profits than a 600 dollar phone sold at the same on-contract price.

Looking at it this way, there might be a chance that the Nexus line’s aggressive pricing scheme will stay intact. For now, we can only wait and see to know which route Google will actually take.

Robert Triggs

Although I’d be a little saddened to see the back of the Nexus line, I’m not sure that it’s fulfilling an important role for Google anymore. The Nexus line was always a reference design for other OEMs to beat, both in terms of price and features, but I don’t think Google needs to, or can even shape market direction by competing with other developers anymore.

Price and hardware wise, the Nexus range achieved its goal of diversifying the handset and tablet market. LG, Oppo, and the new OnePlus One flagships are competitively priced these days, Motorola has the midrange covered, and Samsung, Sony, and HTC are battling away to forge their own high-end visions. The Android hardware market is flourishing.

On the other hand, the Nexus project has completely failed to persuade OEM’s to follow Google’s vision for software. OEMs still don’t update their devices quickly, manufacturers continue to stuff in their own bloat, and many handsets don’t resemble anything like stock Android (Halo) once they reach consumers. We know that Android is going through a bit of an identity crisis thanks to Samsung’s dominance, and the Nexus range can’t stop that.

However, the Silver project might help put the ball back into Google’s court. By incentivising developers to stick to a set of rules, Google can steer Android more directly. It’s a bit more of a dictatorial approach, but it should actually end up promoting healthier competition between the Silver developers and the “spin-off” OEMs who want to take Android in their own direction, i.e. Samsung. Whilst there’s no guarantee that something like Silver will be able to control the big players, smaller OEMs could earn themselves a decent market share by following Google’s rules.

Nexus’ will always appeal to the Android enthusiasts, and its disappearance would no doubt upset many an Android supporter. However, Silver could be a big win for Google, as it finds a way out of the hardware business, as well for consumers, who still get the core Android experience they love.

The end of the Nexus would not be all doom and gloom.

Joseph Hindy

I had a really interesting conversation with some people today about Microsoft Office coming to Linux. Their response was that they had Libre and Open Office (and Google Drive) and that Linux didn’t need Microsoft Office to be successful. I feel like people stating that they don’t need Android Silver and that the Nexus line is good enough have the same problem. The problem is that they’re kinda sorta wrong.

There is a reason why Samsung owns Android market share. People will tout that it’s marketing and other stuff but the facts are the facts. Samsung is simply working harder than anyone else. Yes, that means more marketing. Yes, that means mimicking some hallmark features from the competition. Yes, that means an absurd amount of bloatware. However, what people don’t take into account is that Samsung works hard. They make their product ubiquitous with Android. The put research into what people want and try to squeeze as many of those features into Touchwiz had humanly possible. To Android enthusiasts, it is bloat. To the average consumer, they’re called “features”.

Simply put, Samsung out works their competitors by a large margin. Their flagship phone is always competitive. Their phablet phone is always competitive. Their tablets are too. Wherever you look, Samsung is a viable option. Their commercials are everywhere. Their devices are on every carrier. They have LeBron James and Seth Rogan doing cheeky and fun commercials. Microsoft Office is the standard in office software because they out worked the competition and Office presence anywhere makes that platform axiomatically better. It’s the same thing with Samsung.

What does Google have? None of those things. The vibe I’m getting is that Android Silver will have all of those things. This makes me excited because Google is one of the few companies that can go toe to toe with Samsung in terms of driving interest for a product. It will be the first time in the history of Android where Google tries to out work the leading OEMs that run their own software. Let’s face it, Google has not been competitive in the hardware space at all. If Android Silver is, in fact, Google actually trying to take over the hardware space, then we’re in for a treat because when Google actually tries, they do amazing work.

However, I like to keep things in perspective. In my opinion, Android needs OEM skins and while I’d like to see stock Android take a bigger role in Android as a whole, I also recognize the need for variety. People came to Android because no two phones were alike in both software and hardware but still ran the same apps. If all OEMs run stock Android, the variety dies and one of the fundamental advantages Android has over anyone else. So like I said, I’m glad that Google wants stock Android to be a bigger deal. However, I do not believe under any circumstances that this will spell the end for OEM skins. They’re simply too important to the Android ecosystem.

I also recognize a market leader when I see one. If Android Silver is going to be the flagship for the masses, Google better be prepared to work for it. They have a lot of enthusiasts but John and Jane Blue-collar are buying Samsung for a reason and if Google wants to beat Samsung, then they’re going to have to figure out that reason and then out work Samsung because positive reviews from enthusiasts and blogs definitely aren’t going to be enough. Just ask Motorola and the Moto X. Hype beasting did nothing but get Moto bought out for the second time in almost as many years.

As for the Nexus series. I honestly don’t think Android would be worse off without them. They haven’t been a driving force in Android since HTC made them and they’re not popular to anyone but the hard-core enthusiasts. If Google goes Android Silver, it would only strengthen the notion that the Nexus series is no longer needed or necessary. Some enthusiasts will be mad sure, but if Google wants stock Android to succeed, I think Silver is the future. Not the Nexus.

Jonathan Feist

Let’s take the stance that Nexus is out and Silver is in. From what I have read of the Silver initiative, I am excited for the results as a consumer, but I really worry that developers are losing access to a definitive reference device.

Perhaps it could be argued that with all of the features that manufacturers have built, going beyond that of stock Android and Nexus, the Nexus device is not an adequate reference device anymore either, but let’s ignore that for just a moment.

We have a bit of a rock and a hard place here – if Silver dictates absolutely what features a device must have, we would suffer stifled innovation. However, if Silver simply provides a minimum set of guidelines, manufacturers would surely try to one-up each other within the program. This competition is awesome for consumers, but the infused flavor of each manufacturer, I think, would eliminate the solid reference device that a developer may rely upon.

There is no question that the gap between the Nexus line and what is generally available on the market is growing. With system updates such as the removal of external SD card support, manufacturers scramble to work around stock Android to bring the functionality back to the people. As the other manufacturers continue to build beyond that of the ‘stock’ experience, including hardware/sensors that Android does not natively support, Nexus devices lose their value as a reference device for developers.

Having only dabbled in Android app development, never being a part of a major app release, I must defer to the developers to identify if a dedicated reference device is still of value. Plainly put, is Nexus truly a reference device, or is it just another device that needs to be custom coded for?

I will officially take the stance that both Nexus and Silver should be available going forward. Both serve an important purpose. Silver can take over as the ‘safe’ Android device purchase for everyday consumers and Nexus can continue to be a reference device for developers.

Now, let me finish with a bang, Project Ara should be molded into a Nexus device. To provide value to developers, Nexus must be a reference device – interchangeable hardware could allow Ara/Nexus to mimic the other products on the market. Maybe I am just dreaming, but I think it might just work.

Note: we are reusing our poll from our original report on Nexus Silver, which has accrued roughly 3300 votes so far.

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