Android has succeeded in taking over in most areas, but that’s largely thanks to the marketing efforts by Samsung and others that got the Google name and associated Android brand out there. Most users have never used one of the stock Nexus devices that run Google’s preferred version of Android. That may be all about to change with the roll-out of a new, secret Android Silver program, which would see Google essentially paying OEMs to ship devices with stock or near-stock versions of Android. This could be the beginning of a new era for more usable Android phones, but it may also be the end of the Nexus program as we know it.
Pundits have been calling on Google to focus on the customer experience for years now in order to better compete with the iPhone. According to the leaked information, that’s very much what Android Silver is going to be. Google will reportedly pay OEMs to limit the bloatware and modifications made to a small number of devices, as many as five at any given time, according to The Information. In return, Google will provide better software support for users and help promote these devices online and in carrier stores as a single brand — a brand that may replace the fabled, enthusiast-friendly Nexus line.
A Silver device could be something produced exclusively for the program, or a new version of an existing device. This second scenario would be more like the current Google Play Edition line, which is likely to be merged into Silver as well. All the Silver devices will have very nearly stock software, perhaps with one or two OEM customizations Google deems fit — think Active Display from the Moto X, not arbitrary reskinning a la Samsung. This will ensure they get prompt updates each time a new version of the platform comes out, essentially proliferating the Nexus program beyond its original single device framework.
Something that is still an unknown in all this talk about Android Silver — what about development devices? Google uses the Nexus platform to build and test Android, so can they simply toss it out? There are times when you simply need an unlockable bootloader and full system images. Based on the information out there, it sounds like there may be room for Google to commission Android Silver devices like it does the Nexus right now. If that’s the case, there could still be a Google-preferred device that it sells online alongside all the others with an open bootloader and full system images. The variety of hardware configurations in Silver could also still leave room for $300-400 unlocked phones.
Whatever form Android Silver eventually appears in, it will no doubt be sold to people as a more consistent “Google” experience for high-end Android devices. That’s certainly a good thing as most Android users have never owned a “stock” device, which tends to be a better experience. Behind the scenes, though, this move could be just as much about leveling the playing field to keep Samsung from gobbling up everyone else’s market share.
By agreeing to make an Android Silver phone, an OEM gets free software support and advertising from Google. If the consumer-facing results are as good as Mountain View is hoping, it will mean more sales for less of an investment. This is a way for Google to help OEMs without just handing over sacks of cash, which would raise the ire of market-leading Samsung. At the same time, it ties Android together in our collective consumer consciousness. The platform ceases to be a cacophony of TouchWiz, Sense, and Optimus — it settles down into a gentle tapestry of Android Silver, with a splash of TouchWiz here and a hint of Sense there. Android Silver could come to the US, Germany, and Japan as soon as early 2015.
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