Ah, Nexus devices. A concept started by Google when things started getting out of hand. To start from the beginning, the first batch of Android phones came with stock Android — or what may have been referred to as Android back in the day. Phones like the HTC G1 or the Samsung Galaxy i7500 ran Android 1.5 (Cupcake) and 1.6 (Donut) without any software overlays. And then they began — the most prominent one that I can recall was HTC’s Sense UI on the HTC Hero.
Because Android is open-source, manufacturers chose to customise it inside-out. This fragmentation, due the wide-spread adoption of Android as the front-runner OS for most of the phone makers, made Google create the ‘Nexus’ series — phones that looked and functioned the way Google wanted to. It was intended to be a premium reference phone powered by high grade hardware and features of the time.
People sure were excited at the prospect of Nexus devices; getting updated to the most recent version of Android before anybody else was a boon! But initially Nexus phones were placed in the high-end segment. For e.g. the Samsung Galaxy Nexus originally was sold for a whopping USD 750.
Then it happened — about 7 months after its launch, the Galaxy Nexus’ price dropped down to just USD 350 — or the lucrative “Rs. 20,000” mark that many even today define as the upper limit when buying a phone. Google, with one finishing move, made the Galaxy Nexus a phone that everybody wanted. Geek or non-geek, college kid or tech-savvy aunt, everybody wanted one because the value for money was unparalleled. For e.g. back in the day there was no phone in that price band that had a 720p display or 1080p video recording. Timely software updates and the non-bloated stock UI of Android wasn’t the big reason to buy a Nexus anymore, it just was the cherry on the cake.
Google did it again with the Nexus 4; improving upon the hardware specifications of the Galaxy Nexus in every way but selling it for the same USD 350 price. Although some experiences in the Nexus 4 (like the screen or the camera) didn’t quite live up to expectations built on its spec-sheet, the reasonable price point didn’t give any scope for argument.
The Nexus 7 tablet was yet another fantastic example of disruption in the tablet space — people bought it because it was sold for a throwaway 200 dollar price tag, than just for the Google experience. The company admitted to selling the hardware at no profit, in hopes of making money from the Play Store sales, the same way Sony used to sell PlayStation 3 units at a loss, so that they could make money from game sales. Also, Google being an advertising company will always want more and more people to use their products and services. So, these inexpensive Nexus devices serve as the perfect vehicle for a viral proliferation.
Something again is seemingly changing though. In this year’s Google I/O, no new Nexus hardware was announced. Instead, we got the ‘Google Play’ editions of the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One — existing premium phones running stock Android instead of custom UI. Both are also sold for the same premium price of USD 600 and above, just like their traditional variants. Now, while enthusiasts who are willing to spend that kind of money will get the best-of-the-best, the Value for Money (VFM) crowd will shy away from these ‘Google Play Edition’ handsets.
Particularly in India, VFM surely is the mantra for success. I know quite a few people who bought the Nexus 4 after its official India launch for Rs. 26,000. The Micromax Canvas 4; the successor to the paisa-vasool Canvas HD A116, got over 4000 pre-orders in the first few hours. This, despite the fact that the company has not announced any specifications of the device!
In conclusion, I think Nexus devices meant more than just ‘Pure Google Experience’ for a lot of people. They ended up being devices that delivered a great experience without burning a hole in your pocket. Let us hope that the Nexus series lives on.