Google and the Nexus 5 naming challenge

Does Google need to rebrand the Nexus smartphones and tablets?

LG Nexus 4Google has a naming problem.

The Nexus smartphone, known as the “Nexus 4”, will soon run out of sequential numbering room. Google’s baby tablet is currently branded as the “Nexus 7” which means the smartphone would have only two more updates under the current scheme (Nexus 5 and 6) before pandamonium ensues.

By comparison, Apple uses completely different product names for its smartphone (“iPhone”) and its tablets (“iPad and iPad Mini”). Updates for the iPhone are given numerical increments for major upgrades, and letter suffixes for minor ones–those seen typically every other year (i.e. from iPhone 5 in 2012 to iPhone 5S in 2013). Updates to its tablets result in no product name change (so far). So the new, new iPad coming later this year will be still be known as the “iPad”. All of us who write about tech, or need to distinguish various models will refer to it as either the iPad 5, or, as is an increasingly common practice with all of Apple’s products, borrow from the auto industry, and assign it a model year: iPad (2013).

Google’s naming scheme for its Nexus line as it stands is clean and straight forward, with each model name essentially referring to the screen size:

Nexus 4 – a 4.7″ smartphone

Nexus 7 – a 7-inch tablet

Nexus 10 – a 10-inch tablet

When Google updated both the Nexu 7 and 10 this year it kept the existing names. Again, we differentiate by referencing the generation (1st or 2nd gen) or assigning a model year (2012 or 2013).

In the past Nexus smartphones have had an unpredictable naming convention: Nexus One (2010), Nexus S (2010), Galaxy Nexus (2011), Nexus 4 (2012).

If Google bumps the screen size of the upcoming Nexus (October launch) to 5-inches as is widely anticipated then it would make sense to call it the “Nexus 5”.

But, as the Nexus smartphone increasingly gets bigger, and Google runs out of naming space, what can it do?

There are a few options.

1. Google Names the next Nexus the “Nexus 5”

Maybe I’m over-thinking this whole deal. Google could simply name the new 5-inch Nexus the “Nexus 5”. Future revisions would, so long as the screen was within the 5-inch range, be simply known as the “Nexus 5”. No harm, no foul. If Google opted to release a phablet it could call it the Nexus 6. Life would be sweet: Nexus 5 and 6 would be used for the smartphone and phablet. And Nexus 7 and 10 would be used for the tablets.

One downside with sticking with the status quo is consumer perception. In this case if the product is always, say, the Nexus 5… every year, every release… it becomes increasingly difficult to stoke excitement. Introducing: the new “5”. Introducing: the new, new “5”. On the other hand Apple always makes hay when the iPhone (or Mac OS X) gets its annual update. There’s a new number, new logo, new colors, and new marketing campaign to suit.

2. Google Removes Numbers Completely from Nexus Product Names

Why bother even with the 4, 7, 10 in the Nexus naming convention?

Well, I suppose that’s obvious: they can’t all be called “Nexus”. But Google could remove the numbers and re-brand the product line. One clue that Google is thinking along those lines is the Moto X smartphone released this summer. It’s not called the Moto 4 or Moto X 4. It’s simply the Moto X – a great name, and a great phone to boot. If Google removes numbers it would then need sub-names; under this scenario Nexus would remain the master-brand, while a secondary name would be introduced to differentiate various models. For example, you could have the “Nexus Phone” for the smartphone, the “Nexus Tablet Mini” for the smaller tablet, etc. Surely, though, someone with more imagination than I could up with better names, but you get the idea.

3. Google Scraps the Nexus Brand Completely

This is a long shot. I find it difficult to believe that, after all these years of building brand equity with Nexus, Google would toss the moniker to the wayside. But, with the surprise naming change in Android 4.4, from Key Lime Pie to KitKat (help us), Google could have a massive branding makeover in the works. That would mean the Nexus brand would disappear completely, and the new 5-inch smartphone we’ll see in a few weeks would be called something completely different. Anything could happen!

At the end of the day, I’m going with option 1. Steady as she goes.

I suspect that the new phone running Android 4.4 KitKat that Google unveils this month will be called–drum roll, please–“Nexus 5”.

Next year’s update could still be known as the Nexus 5 and we would identify it using the generational descriptor or mode year.

As I mentioned there’s still room to slot in a Nexus phablet and call it the Nexus 6.

Tablet naming (Nexus 7 and Nexus 10) would remain unchanged.

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