Typically, when we tech people think of the term "Nexus", we think of a single device and a single manufacturer for each major iteration of Android. The first Nexus, the Nexus One, was an in-between device for Eclair (2.0 and 2.1) and Froyo (2.2). Google debuted Gingerbread (2.3) on the Samsung Nexus S and Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) was introduced on the Galaxy Nexus. Even Honeycomb was debuted on a reference device, which is commonly known as the Motorola XOOM – though it isn't technically a Nexus.
This year, however, there is reason to believe there may be more than one Nexus device released for the upcoming Jelly Bean update. (For correctness' sake, there were actually two Nexus devices in 2010, but both were released for two separate versions of Android at opposite ends of the year.) The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that a confidential source told them Google is partnering with multiple Android device makers to compete more directly with Apple. Amir Efrati of WSJ says:
"Google Inc. is shifting its strategy for its Android mobile operating system, in a bid to create a united front with smartphone and tablet makers to take on rivals like Apple Inc. and prevent wireless carriers from controlling the devices."
Allegedly, Google will give said manufacturers early access to new versions of software and will sell devices directly to consumers, sans contract, via Play Store and other retailers. These so-called lead devices will come unlocked and with the pure Google experience as all Nexus devices should. (Ahem, LTE Galaxy Nexus.) Also, being unlocked devices means that could pose some problems with LTE and CDMA compatibility.
The report noted that there may be as many as five manufacturers on board, but which manufacturers would be partnering with Google for the lead devices are not known. My guess is that all of the biggest OEMs will be on board for a new Android initiative: Samsung, HTC, Motorola and LG. And the fifth could be picked from a very long list of manufacturers (Sony, Huawei, ASUS, Acer, etc.).
If the information pans out, these lead devices will be available by Thanksgiving and there will be a lot of very happy Android users, especially among those who are purist, like myself.
For every major update, I constantly worry about which manufacturer will make the reference device for that specific version of Android. Will Samsung make it ... again? Will HTC have another crack at it? Or will one of the OEMs I'm not particularly fond of make a Nexus and force me to stick with a non-Nexus device?
It's all mostly petty. But the possibility of a handful of manufacturers making Nexus devices every year would be a dream come true for Android users. There are more than enough Android phones launched with Android-based software – such as Sense 4, TouchWiz, Motorola Applications Platform, etc. – every year. The one thing there has always been a shortage of is stock Android devices. And multiple, unlocked lead devices would answer that problem ... for the right price.
However, I'm not so quick to believe the report fully. No matter how excited I want to be or how much I want to believe it will happen, I'm skeptical. Last June, we heard a similar rumor pending the release of the Ice Cream Sandwich Nexus device. Jonathan Geller of BGR reported that Google was working with "multiple carriers and multiple OEMs on their own 'exclusive' Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) halo devices, and that they may all launch around the same time."
We later learned that Ice Cream Sandwich would only launch with one Nexus device, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and no other manufacturers would get in on the Nexus action for at least another year.
That said, some things have changed this time around, which could certainly give more credence to the report. Google proposed to purchase Motorola Mobility in August of 2011. Since then, Google has been under a bit of scrutiny by its partner manufacturers, who fear Google will give Motorola an unfair advantage. Efrati says:
"The plan also aims to assuage concerns of smartphone and tablet makers that build devices using Android, many of whom are wary of Google because of its pending acquisition of device-maker Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., these people said.
Many manufacturers fear Google will try to boost Motorola's business at their expense, something Google has said won't happen. Under its new model, Google could give Motorola early access to Android software without putting other partners at a disadvantage, said a person familiar with the matter."
A move like this has serious benefits for both consumers and Google, though. Google gets to prove its dedication and equal love for all its manufacturers while consumers can purchase unlocked devices from their favorite manufacturers with a pure, vanilla Android (read: Google Wallet, no carrier bloat, etc.) experience and can expect rapid updates. (Maybe.) Google will also generate more profits from its mobile platform. And, for those consumers who prefer manufacturers' customized versions of Android, those devices will still be available, subsidized through carriers.
So, please let this rumor be true, and let there be more stock Android, Nexus devices to choose from! Tell me, folks. Which manufacturer's Nexus would you buy if you had a choice?