Google announced some new products earlier this week. They’re a lot like their predecessors: cheaper than most other devices; built around the Android operating system; and just attractive enough to make people consider buying one of them instead of a competitive product from Apple. But I doubt that will be enough to make them popular.
Let’s start with the smartphones. They’re called the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P. They’re cheaper than most smartphones — they start at $379 and $499 — and are meant to compete with the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus, respectively. (More details about the devices’ processors, displays, and initial comparisons to other products can be found here.)
Others have already questioned why Google continues to make Nexus smartphones. It can’t be making a lot of money by selling them, and the Verge reports that manufacturers aren’t pleased when they’re asked to help create them. The devices are just novelties that appeal to zealot consumers who want to experience Android as Sundar Pichai intended.
Which isn’t to say that the phones don’t look nice. I envy them, and they’re cheap enough that I might buy one under the auspice of needing it to report on various platforms. Blame this on Apple’s tick-tock product cycle, which made the new iPhones look exactly like the old iPhones but with a new “bros’ gold” finish, but the Nexus phones look great.
I know what to expect once I start using them, though. I’ll be excited for a while, and I’ll enjoy the hardware. Then I’ll get to the software and switch back to iPhone. Either I won’t be able to find apps that I use every day, or I’ll find inferior versions of the apps that frustrate me whenever I have to use them to get any of my work done.
That’s the real problem with Nexus. It’s supposed to be a look at what Android can do, and based on past experience using various Nexus devices, that just isn’t compelling. The ecosystem is too fragmented: Developers have to support too many devices and too many different versions of Android, all with the promise of making less money than they would have if they focused strictly on iOS products.
People have been saying that for years. Android supporters get upset about it — “Things are getting better! No, really this time!” — but that remains the case. Nexus is supposed to be a saccharine treat Google offers its most fanatic Android users; instead the program is more like a salt-shaker used to make open wounds hurt even worse.
Then there’s the fact that there’s little exclusive to Nexus products. Google makes its content services (Play Movies, Books, etc.) available on competitive platforms. Just about the only thing Android smartphones can do that iPhones can’t is provide easy access to Google Now — and for people who like their privacy, that isn’t a benefit.
All of which means buying a Nexus smartphone is limiting, because it means you won’t be able to use apps or services that are exclusive to the iPhone, without offering much in return. Hell, most people won’t even perceive the devices as being cheaper than most smartphones — which they are — because they have to pay the full cost upfront instead of subsidizing it with a contract or paying in installments.
Many of those complaints are more pronounced on the new Pixel C, an Android tablet with an optional keyboard. The product seems great, but anyone who’s used both an iPad and an Android tablet can tell you that the software is even worse than it is between smartphone platforms. Most people will either purchase an iPad or a cheaper device.
It isn’t hard to lust after Google’s new hardware. But just like the desserts after which the company names new versions of Android, these devices often start out sweet before making someone feel sick. The only difference is that a smartphone is a much longer commitment — and has more profound effects on someone’s life— than a pastry.