Wednesday, July 13, 2016

No Need For New Google Phone, But ...

Google Phone
After The Telegraph reported that Google has plans to release a Google-branded phone, many were skeptical. It seems that the only reason why Google is doing this is that it will "see Google take more control over design, manufacturing, and software."

Google is apparently sick and tired of the iPhone "dominating" the high end of the smartphone market, and the company appears to believe a Google-built smartphone can solve this problem in a way that a Nexus device cannot.

The report further says that the Google Phone will appear "by the end of the year" and that it will exist in addition to the Nexus program, which the report says is "expected to continue this year with handsets made by Taiwanese company HTC."

But what would Google really gain from all this and by building its own smartphone?

In the wider Android ecosystem, update speeds are an embarrassment, phones are full of crapware, and OEM skins ruin the consistent software design, but all of these problems are already fixed if the user just buy a Nexus phone. Google totally controls the software side of a Nexus phone. It has launched Nexus-exclusive features in the past. It can do whatever it wants and make whatever changes it wants. A "Google Phone" would offer no benefits in the software department.

The only reason Google might want to build its own phone would be to fully take over the one thing it doesn't have total control over today: hardware design. Google has some input on the hardware of a Nexus device, but it seems to come late in the design process. Every Nexus device is built in cooperation with an Android OEM, but the Nexus handsets don't stray far from existing models.

For 2015, the Huawei-built Nexus 6P was clearly related to Huawei's flagship, the P8. The 2014 Motorola-built Nexus 6 was rumored to be a last-minute project between Google and Motorola, and apparently it was completely a Motorola design (the same hardware was rebranded as the "Moto X Pro" in China). For 2013, the LG-built Nexus 5 and the LG G2 were so closely related that with a little modification it was possible to swap parts between the two.

Does Google truly need to design hardware from the ground up, though? Today's flagship smartphones aren't all that different from one another. They all have the latest Qualcomm SoC, a big and dense display, a great camera, and a battery that never seems to last long enough. The biggest difference is the exterior design and materials, where users get to pick from plastic, glass, or aluminum.In short—today's hardware is fine.

So building your own from the ground up only makes sense if it's going to be radically different. But what radical changes can Google make to a smartphone at this point? Google has a few projects in the works. There's Project Tango, a smartphone with extra sensors on the back that allow it to map the world in 3D, but a few additional sensors wouldn't require a ground-up redesign.

Then there's Project Ara, a perpetually delayed modular smartphone, which truly would require a unique design. But Ara's clunky (and now watered-down) modular system, along with serious questions about battery life, don't really match the "high-end" iPhone-beating product The Telegraph describes.

Building the hardware from scratch doesn't seem likely to make a huge practical difference, but it does cross a red line that OEMs have had a problem with in the past.

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