This last year has been a wild ride for Google. Through 2012 and early 2013, we’ve been introduced to Google Glass, the Chromebook Pixel, the Nexus Q, Nexus 10, Nexus 7 and Nexus 4. All impressive devices on their own, but together, they form one of the best product portfolios any one company has ever introduced in the span of a year.
As with any product portfolio though, some devices released under Google’s name are more impressive than others. But it’s slightly unusual to be able to pin-point a possible reason behind it. While the one-hundred-percent Google branded Nexus Q, Glass and Chromebook Pixel are great because of the unique features they bring to the table, there still feels like there’s more to it. The hardware itself has a magical feel to it. Google has been pushing the boundaries of software and what they can do with algorithms for years now, but it wasn’t until recently that they brought that same enthusiasm to hardware. Just not all of their hardware.
Compared to the Q, Pixel and Glass, the Nexus 4, 10 and 7 feel stale and bland. Sure, they surpass previous generations, but nothing about them is class leading. The Nexus Q, when compared to other set-top boxes, looks and feels amazing. And that colored ring? Pure bliss. The Pixel, although strikingly similar to the MacBook Air, improves on similar notebooks in nearly every way. It’s much more modern looking than the competition, and again, there are some wonderful aesthetic additions just for the sake of looking good (I’m looking at you, color bar). And then there’s Glass. Glass is in a category all it’s own, but if you were to try and compare it to similar products, you could look at other glasses, in which case Glass looks fashionable (it was the star of fashion week last year). Compared to other wearable computing devices, Glass makes smart-watches look almost dumb.
The Nexus 4, Nexus 10 and Nexus 7 don’t bring anything like that to the table. The Nexus 4 has slightly rounded edges, that’s all fine and good. But it has a glass back, which other companies have moved away from because they realize it’s impractical. Have you seen the amount of people with broken Nexus 4s? That hasn’t changed. The display is boring. The camera is boring. Most of that applies to the Nexus 7 and 10 as well. Matias Duarte spoke about how much he loves the design of the Nexus 7 and how every detail was poured over and fine tuned. Just like with the Nexus 10, it’s nothing but a rehash of a different company’s product. That’s the entire problem in a nutshell.
When Google releases a Nexus device, they pick a manufacturer who is doing things they like. Or rather, has a product they like. Google then makes a couple changes, and they’re done. By making devices this way, manufacturing costs stay down, and through tight partnerships, retail prices are able to be lowered, but it’s time for Google to bring things into the next phase. If a start to finish Google Nexus device had to cost more money, so be it. For the features and quality Google would be able to add by gaining complete control, there’s no doubt it’d be more than worth it.
There’s a lot of rumblings that Google will do this with Motorola’s next great flagship device, but it still won’t be the same. The Motorola X Phone will most likely still be tied to carrier portfolios. Despite design chief Jim Wicks’ statement to PCMag on how Motorola will be adopting stock Android from here on out, he still says Motorola is, “going to try to drive a more singular expression of our brand across multiple carriers.” Which means that Motorola will still be working with carriers on things, including software updates, that will do nothing but hold them back. One of the main reasons why the Q, Pixel and Glass are all so impressive is undoubtedly related to the fact that Google engineers had complete, total control over every aspect of those devices. They answered to no one but themselves.
Motorola’s next products will be great, but not as great as they could be. Same goes for the next ASUS branded Nexus 7, or Samsung branded Nexus 10, or LG branded Nexus 4. If you want to see real innovation, and an unadulterated passion for technology materialize in the form of a phone or tablet that fits in the palm of your hand, Google needs to cut the cord, and make their own Nexus hardware. The fine folks at Google have already proved they know what they’re doing. Time to push forward.