Why the Nexus is the iPhone of Android But Not Quite There Yet

One of the key arguments that any iPhone user usually puts up when he is debating an Android user is the seamless integration between hardware and software given that Apple closely controls both of them. The only Android phones that can claim some sort of a synergy between hardware and software in terms of being knit together is the Nexus line, where Google partners with an OEM and closely watches the development of the smartphone. These Nexus phones at the launch are usually the first ones to carry the new major Android update and are the first ones to receive OTA updates for Android upgrades. Some of the things that make the Nexus line akin to the iPhone of Android are:

  • Vertical integration, where the hardware and software are knit together and overseen in synergy by the OEM.
  • Promise of timely updates and being the first in line to get the updates.
  • Vanilla software experience without any modifications.
  • Global availability.
  • Yearly upgrade cycle

iNexus graphic

However, despite being what you would presume to be the most important Android smartphone given that Google directly controls more software and hardware integration on it, the Nexus line has failed to become what the iPhone is to Apple, that one standout flagship. Yes, there is only a single flagship iPhone an year and several when it comes to Android facilitating choices, but more often than not, the Nexus phones have been lost in the clouds of choices and failed to become the true flagship of Android that they should be. Some of the reasons for the same we feel are:

When was the last time a hardware innovation came on a Nexus phone?

When you pick up a next generation iPhone, they are not just always faster or different looking versions of previous generation devices. You get a new software as well as a hardware experience, thanks to hardware features that were added. Apple has always stayed loyal to the yearly upgrade cycle and even if the ‘s’ models bear the same design as the older generation, there is always a new hook. The iPhone 5s got the Touch ID which the iPhone 5 did not have, the iPhone 6s got the 3D touch over the iPhone 6 while the iPhone 4s had a significantly better camera and Siri.

If you look at the Nexus phones, they are usually the rehashed version of something that an OEM has already out. The Nexus 5 was closely built on everything that the LG G2 was and the Nexus 6 came out with largely the same set of hardware look and features other than minor upgrades as the Motorola Moto X Second Gen. The trend has sort of been halted by the Nexus 5X and 6P which have new designs, yet there has never been a hardware innovation that has come first on the Nexus phones. The round flash on the Nexus 6 was on the Moto X, for the new Nexus phones, the fingerprint scanner has become common, so have QHD displays while laser auto focus is also something not new. The processor in question too is available on a fair few flagships, underlining the fact that while Nexus phones may be the first to bring a few software features thanks to the latest Android builds, they are never the first devices to bring an enticing hardware feature which will take your breath away.

Marketing spends will never match up to that of the big Android flagships

The next two points are kind of inter-related and they talk about the positioning of Nexus phones. Google has barely, if ever done any sort of marketing spends on Nexus phones. They are well known devices in the geek community because geeks care about things like faster updates and stock Android, but step out of that community and not a lot of people even know about the Nexus program. Even if they have heard the phone, what Nexus as a brand stands for is up in the air for a lot of people. We are not propagating a massive brand building campaign, but being out there will definitely not be a bad thing. iPhones on the other hand have become fashion statements and even those who are not using them are at the very least aware of them. Both Google and Apple have really one smartphone to call their own and given that there is really no dearth of money at the Big G, you would have expected them to be a little more outgoing about the Nexus line and put more efforts marketing it.

The pricing and target audience is a bit of a mismatch

One reason you can speculate behind Google not marketing their Nexus line is possibly the convoluted positioning of the line itself. When the Nexus line was an infant, Google mentioned that Nexus devices are aimed at developers and geeks and therefore have no manufacturer or carrier modifications. Till the Nexus 4, Nexus phones were also released in the budget segment so as to appeal to the dev crowd and they could afford an Android phone, just as Google wanted Android to look like and start building on top of it. The Nexus 4 was launched at $299, the Nexus 5 on the other hand was introduced at $349 while the Nexus 5X and 6P have been priced at $379 and $499 respectively. The upward trend is most definitely noticeable and what makes it more interesting is that Nexus phones have been always available unlocked, without any carrier subsidy available. The 64 GB version of the Nexus P costs $549, while the iPhone 6s Plus for 64 GB storage will set you back by $849 unlocked, a difference of good $300. So, justifiably Nexus has not ventured into iPhone level insane pricing, but for being a device that would appeal to the geeks and developer world and carrying forth the legacy of Nexus phones, the current lineup of Nexus phones are definitely high end.

Thus it is this pricing that makes the Nexus line a little ambiguous as to what sort of audience is Google trying to seduce. The Nexus phones are somewhere in between good smart budget phones, like the OnePlus Two and top of the tree Android flagship phones making them an odd choice. This is where we feel that Google has not got the positioning and TG right, which is what is hurting the Nexus line. Apple on the other hand has made it clear that iPhones are like jewelry and will sell at a premium and appeal to anyone who cares about a good experience, while the Nexus phones still struggle to find their sweet spot.

Long term software support is amiss

Apple typically provides software updates and support for smartphones and products that are three years old. In fact, the lowest product that supports iOS 9 update is the iPhone 4s, which was released in the year 2011. Compare this to the Nexus smartphone launched in 2011, which was the Nexus S, which has already been forgotten, you get the story of software support. To their credit, Google has always maintained clearly that they would only extend support to a device that is 18 months old, you kind of get the bigger picture why someone may well be cautious of picking an Android phone, in the space where you have a rival that is supporting a device that is four years old. Given the rising costs of the Nexus smartphones, long term software support does become a major talking point as you will definitely have people who will be picking up these devices knowing that they will not be upgrading for a good two year period. Possibly the time for Google to rethink and provide a slightly longer software support, especially now that the hardware configuration is good enough to remain future proof for a while.

While the Nexus line may never break into the top two or three Android phones, you wonder if Google has really pushed it hard enough to realise its potential. So far, it has been a case of Google holding the Nexus line more than anyone else and sooner the shackles are off the pedal, quicker will the consumer benefit and have a product that can actually take on an iPhone in ways that not any Android phone can.

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