Google's humbler Nexus S strategy emerges

All the rhetoric about overthrowing the mobile industry was shelved for the launch of Google's Nexus S, which is just an Android phone with a new operating system.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
Google's new Nexus S looks to be a nice phone, but it's not being touted as a revolutionary one the way the Nexus One was in January..
Google's new Nexus S looks to be a nice phone, but it's not being touted as a revolutionary one the way the Nexus One was in January. Google

Gone was the special event, gone were the predictions of mobile-market upheaval: the second iteration of Google's Nexus phone strategy was announced to the world with a simple blog post.

And that makes perfect sense; given the lessons Google's Android team learned in 2010 while trying to balance a good tech idea with real-world business needs. Like the Nexus One first unveiled in January, today's launch of the Nexus S reveals a stripped-down fast smartphone with some futuristic features and the most current edition of Android that delivers "the pure Google experience," the company said in that post.

Unlike the Nexus One, which was announced at a much-hyped press event by Google's Andy Rubin alongside HTC CEO Peter Chou and Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha, the Nexus S was unaccompanied by any promises to disrupt the mobile market with unlocked phones and Web-only sales. Best Buy, the picture of the consumer electronics establishment, will be the exclusive carrier of the Nexus S when it launches next week for $529 (unlocked) or $199 with a two-year T-Mobile contract.

There are very practical reasons for Google to produce a "pure Google experience" phone to help increase Android momentum. Software developers need to have early access to new operating system releases to make sure their apps will work well on the new release. However, Google's Android model allows wireless carriers and handset makers to dictate the pace at which their customers receive Android updates, meaning some app developers on one carrier might not be able to see new releases before customers on another carrier start running the software, which isn't good.

There are also loftier reasons for building such a phone, as Rubin espoused in January at the Nexus One event. Back then, Google was full of promises about disruption and liberation, with plans to free consumers from two-year contracts, end exclusive deals between carriers and handset makers for new phones, and relieve the drudgery of in-store shopping.

Believe it or not, the established mobile industry--the very companies that have allowed Android to be a success--wasn't necessarily on board with those ideas. Carriers withdrew promised support for the Nexus One, and without broad carrier support Google was forced to do exactly what it didn't want to do: offer a phone effectively locked to a single carrier.

And so this time around, the Nexus S is being promoted simply based on hardware and software. It's a basically a Googlized version of the Samsung Galaxy S, with the near-field communications chips that Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke about last month and could one day let you use your phone as a credit card. Android 2.3, known as Gingerbread, will bring a new virtual keyboard and a simpler user interface when it ships with the Nexus S on December 16, long before it reaches other Android phones.

This phone is not being billed as the key to a revolution in the smartphone industry. Judging by comments on Twitter this morning, there's likely a sizable contingent inside Google that still hopes to make that happen some day--when the "pure Google experience" goes beyond software--but that day is not today.

So what remains of Google's larger goals with its own branded smartphones? We may get a chance to find out when Rubin speaks tonight at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference in San Francisco, where he's expected to show off the Nexus S.

But it's clear that for now, Google has chosen to concentrate on its original Android promise of giving wireless carriers and handset makers around the world a free, competitive smartphone operating system to serve as a hedge against Apple and iOS. Tearing down that industry might have to wait for another day.