Is Google prepping for an Android brand re-alignment? Rumors have been rampant that Google will release an “X” phone later this year (most likely at Google I/O in conjunction with the release of Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie). Even though the company has done well with the Nexus line-up, word is that management really wants to take volume up a notch, specifically to counter the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S III, both of which have moved millions of units. Despite stock-outs, the Nexus 4 smartphone still sells a fraction of its higher profile competition. According to Business Insider — and take this with a grain of salt, as the numbers are based on analysis of serial numbers — it would take Apple all of one day to sell as many iPhones as Google has sold with its Nexus 4 since launch (that’s about 6 weeks now). In other words, sales of the Nexus 4 don’t nearly match the hype and headlines.
Now it appears Google is going to reload and try again, putting energy behind brand X. Does that mean the Nexus brand will get killed off? Or does it mean Google will juggle multiple product lines in an attempt to satiate a variety of target markets?
We’re already seeing stylized versions of “X” pop up around Google; on the Jelly Bean boot screen, on the Nexus logo.
So if X marks the spot for Google in 2013, here’s a few scenarios on how that might unfold.
1. Google goes all X, ditches Nexus brand
What if… Google tightened its grip on Android, and turned in-house to Motorola for a consumer-friendly, incredibly easy-to-use version of an Android superphone? So far, the Motorola Mobility acquisition hasn’t resulted in any new Android phones. That’s odd. Extremely odd. And if I were a betting man I wouldn’t for a second doubt that Google had something up its sleeve. Meanwhile, co-opetition continues. Samsung, Asus and LG have all taken turns at the wheel to design and build Nexus devices. But to truly compete with Apple’s user experience, vertical integration may be key. Here, with X, Google would own the entire ecosystem – the phone, the software, the app store. The Nexus brand, while big with developers, and the tech-set, fares less well with the mainstream buyer who favor simplicity over hardcore (or pure) Android.
So Google dumps Nexus completely, and re-launches a new line of X devices. X Phone, X Tablet, X Book (i.e. Chromebook redux). All would run Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie. And all — this is key — would run a new Google/Motorola developed skin on top of stock Android. Simplicity and ease-of-use would be tantamount. Consumers have spoken and they like skins (and as a stock Android purist it pains me to say that). The X skin would be a far simpler treatment of Android and be aimed at duplicating some of the ease of use of Apple’s iOS and Samsung’s TouchWiz.
2. Google keeps both brands: X for mainstream, Nexus for technorati
Woah camel! That’s jabberwocky! Okay, yes, it would be next to crazy to build a successful brand such as Google has done with Nexus, and then unceremoniously kill it. Rather, the smart money says it should build on its strengths, rather than tear down all that shines so brightly.
Alright then, how about this: Google divides its range into two product lines. Nexus continues pretty much as is, and remains targeted at the Android purist. X enters the fray and becomes Google’s answer to Samsung’s Galaxy line; a mainstream, volume play. And that means carrier ubiquity. X must surely embrace LTE and be available on Verizon, as well as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile.
Here’s a wild card. What if… Google rolls out its own VOIP-enabled network based on its broadband efforts in Kansas, and a new version of Google Voice? X could very well be a beach head for Google to wage its war against carrier control and margins.
3. Google launches an X Phone – nothing more, nothing less
After all is said and done, and we all dance through the halls of Google I/O with a pre-release bag of Android goodies, the X Phone may turn out to be just… the X Phone. Maybe X will mark the spot for Google, but not necessitate a product or brand shuffle.
This one would be easy then. The X Phone will be a 5-inch 1080p HD smartphone (hey, I want 4K already!). It will run Key Lime Pie, and ship with an updated version of Google Now that will pull together everything Google knows about us, and simultaneously make us giddy with joy and scare the bejesus out of us with the contextual accuracy of the phone’s predictions (“You want In-N-Out Burger now” – “There’s a Fry’s around the corner” – “Kapernick will lead the 49ers to a 2nd Super Bowl”). A lot of people talk about Google Glass, but I fathom the real differentiator Google has in its war chest is Google Now. No other company can match Google when it comes to consumer intelligence, relationships, online behavior. Maybe Amazon and Facebook come close, but they don’t make phones (yet). And because Apple doesn’t have a search play or a social networking service, it’s ability to leverage this sort of data and provide us all with information we want when we want it is severely limited by comparison.
X could also be a hedge. A hedge against Samsung’s rumored development of a competing mobile operating system.
With RIM hobbling back on the field, new Androids from Sony, and Microsoft incessantly hollering for attention and relevance, the year 2013 is shaping up to be a cracker, even if in the absence red dragons.