I'm on the fence about the purported Nexus program change

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| Published: October 4, 2012

If the people had it their way, HTC would once again have a crack at partnering with Google to make a Nexus smartphone. Some want Sony or ASUS to have a go. Others just want Samsung to keep the ball rolling. LG is somewhere near the bottom of the list of manufacturers people want to see make a Nexus.

That said, rumors keep rolling in and keep pointing towards LG. Just this Sunday, Android and Me's Taylor Wimberly quoted information from an anonymous source that said a new version of Android and a new Nexus would debut within the next 30 days. His take on the rumors circled back to the weeks of rumors stating the LG Optimus G will be the base for LG's Nexus phone.

Yesterday, Wimberly brought forward some more information from one of his sources. The LG-made Nexus will be titled LG Optimus Nexus G. (Seriously, reading that makes me cringe. Typing it makes the hairs on my arms raise.) But his source had more.

Back in May, The Wall Street Journal ran a story alleging Google would be working with a handful of its closest partner manufacturers to "create a united front with smartphone and tablet makers" to better compete with its largest counterparts and "prevent wireless carriers from controlling the devices," says WSJ's Amir Efrati. Word on the street was that Google was working with as many as five partners to bring an arsenal of Nexus devices to market around the same time.

The immediate reaction to this rumor was that Google wanted to create its own Nexus device using its in-house manufacturer, Motorola, but didn't want to step on the toes and cannibalize its most loyal partners. By allowing multiple entities to create a Nexus in the same year, Google could also create one with its daughter company without setting off too many alarms.

But for those really keeping track, the rumor actually dates back to June 2011, when BGR's Jonathan Geller reported an inside source shared that Google would be 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." It was a rumor from a different year with similar details.

Android and Me's sources are now corroborating with more than one rumor we all have been dying to get to the bottom of. Wimberly says:

"As previously reported, the whole flagship smartphone concept for the Nexus program is a thing of the past. Any manufacturer can release phones as part of the Nexus program, but they must adhere to strict standards.

In order to qualify for the Nexus program handset manufacturers must use stock Android and 64 MB of secure memory for media streaming. Custom UI skins will be allowed as part of a new 'customization center'. There are additional hardware requirements that are needed to make sure the devices will support Android 5.0, which is scheduled to arrive by fall 2013."

Customization center, although quite different at its core, is similar to something I first proposed in June of last year. I asked, "Should Android users have the option to choose between custom software and stock Android?" I explained that upon the initial boot of a device (either when first powering it on or after a factory wipe), the user would be prompted to choose between purely stock Android and a manufacturer's custom interface.

Something like a customization center, a theme manager, would allow users to make this change on the fly, as they pleased. It would also take manufacturer customizations back to where these things first began.

With the very first Android smartphone I ever owned released, the HTC Hero on Sprint, it shipped with one of the earliest builds of Sense UI. Unlike Sense today, which is baked into the lowest levels of the interface, down to the nitty gritty details, Sense atop Android 1.6 (Donut) and 2.1 (Eclair) could be essentially deactivated by navigating to the Settings app, choosing the Sense launcher and resetting the app defaults. Upon pressing the home button, the user would be given a choice between the stock Android launcher and Sense.

I'm assuming this new method would have a little more polish and make the transition more user-friendly. And I'm happy to hear Google is opening up the Nexus program to more than one manufacturer per year. But there are a few minute details that have me on the fence about this whole thing.

First, Google is putting a lot of faith and trust into its partners. As Wimberly states, there are very strict standards that will shape the making of the devices themselves. But naming and branding? It seems Google has learned little from the Galaxy Nexus snafu. I had hoped the Nexus 7 and Nexus Q were a tell-tale that Google was putting its foot down and focusing on branding.

Unfortunately, it seems Google is giving its partners entirely too much freedom with branding. LG Optimus Nexus G makes me shudder. It's painful. As will be the Galaxy Nexus II and most other names, I'm sure. For starters, this is going to convolute the Nexus brand, make it confusing for consumers. And Nexus may go down the same dark path EVO and DROID have gone down over the years – Nexus may eventually become just a technical term, not a symbol for a "pure Google experience" or superior products.

And that gets me to my next point. Nexus, for all intents and purposes, is a brand for pure Android products, the purest of pure mobile Google experience. Yet Google is going to allow custom skins, even if only as an option? How is that any more acceptable than the carrier bloatware on the Galaxy Nexus for Verizon?

It appears as if Google is pushing Nexus towards the mainstream, towards consumers who may not be quite as tech savvy as those modders and hackers out there, which is fine. I commend Google for their efforts. But it seems it may be placing too many liberties in the hands of partners, who may ultimately try to send the Nexus brand under in favor of their own brands. (I'm still not convinced the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus weren't Samsung's way of telling Google they will never put as much effort and finesse into a Google device as its own Galaxy brand.)

I couldn't be more excited for multiple Nexus phones. The more stock Android devices, the better. But if the rumored LG Optimus Nexus G is any indication for what we can expect from partners in this venture, I'm already beginning to lose faith. Google needs to strengthen the Nexus brand by controlling it better and being more adamant about making the Nexus moniker the staple in the brand. For instance, LG's Nexus should be dubbed LG Nexus G. No more, no less. Samsung's should be Nexus S II. The Nexus 7 by ASUS is a perfect example of how Nexus devices should be branded. There is no confusion about what the device represents or whose software it is running.

A Nexus phone should not also be an Optimus or Galaxy phone, though the custom interfaces within customization center will clout that, too.

What say you, folks? Is Google doing the right thing by opening up the Nexus program to multiple partners, giving them freedom with branding and allowing them to install side-loaded interfaces? Or should Google keep Nexus pure?