What are Google’s Nexus devices for if not to be purchased by large numbers of consumers? Google’s take on that issue has been consistent: they’re “halo” devices meant to educate the rest of the ecosystem. Burke put it to us this way: “Basically what Nexus allows us to do is set the standard … [we can] demonstrate how Android runs and hopefully influence other device manufacturers to take what we’ve done and do even better.”
That explanation has often been difficult to take at face value. Though the phones have usually been elegant devices, they typically launched with specs that were behind the curve. The Galaxy Nexus had a pretty terrible camera, for example, and the Nexus 4 lacks support for LTE. Now that Google sells top-end “Google Play edition” phones that run stock Android, the Nexus line seems more irrelevant than ever.
That brings us to the other — and more important — reason the Nexus line exists: Google simply needs hardware on which it can develop Android. Burke says “as an engineering team creating a mobile platform — we can’t do that in the abstract. We need to do it on a real device that we’re carrying with us.” When people ask me about the Nexus line, I like to joke that if you need to create a few hundred polished and usable devices for Google engineers, why not make a few hundred thousand more and sell them to hardcore users?
I think that acknowledging Google wants to control some of its own hardware for internal development purposes – as well as to better enable external developers to produce software for Android – continues to strike to the heart of why the ‘Nexus’ line exists. Arguably the recent ‘Play Edition’ of manufacturers’ flagships phones could address consumers’ desire for stock Android experiences, but I don’t think that the Play Editions will fully satisfy developers’ interests in working from a stock, no-nonsense, quickly updated platform.