Given the number of tips we've now received, it no longer seemed prudent to ignore a rather questionable rumor published by The Telegraph yesterday, claiming that Google plans to build a phone that is not a Nexus and release it by the end of the year. And yes: the report acknowledges that there are rumors HTC will build 2016's Nexus phones. The Telegraph claims this is something else. But the moment they started discussing reasoning, I became suspicious.
Although Android runs on the majority of smartphones sold globally, Apple still dominates the lucrative high-end of the market. The proliferation of Android device makers, many of which apply the software differently, means Google has struggled to ensure consistency, with some smartphone owners waiting months for updates, and some manufacturers relegating Google’s own internet services which are included in Android.
Its own phone would allow Google to control the software, securing the future of services such as the Google search engine and Google Play app store that run on it.
I'll be frank: there is literally no reason a "Google" phone would reduce ecosystem fragmentation any more than a Nexus. This is actual nonsense - I can't even with this logic. Nexus phones run exactly the software Google wants, ship with all the apps Google wants, are updated by Google, are sold by Google, can even get cellular service from Google, and receive support from Google. A "Google-branded" phone would be no less fragmented than a Nexus phone. Not to mention Google would not feasibly have anything to gain by releasing a third non-Nexus device that would literally compete with Nexus. Unless it wanted to do so just as some kind of one-off experiment. But even then, it basically makes no sense.
The Telegraph also points to Google's hiring of Rick Osterloh back in April... a hire which could not feasibly result in a new product release - let alone one as complex as a brand-new smartphone - in under a year. The Telegraph's actual rumor boils down to almost nothing of substance, merely an assertion that Google is in discussions with mobile operators (carriers) about releasing a "Google-branded" phone this year.
The story flies directly in the face of a recode headline from just a few weeks ago, which reads: "Sundar Pichai says Google is not planning to do its own smartphone (well, except the Ara modular phone)." Pichai even said during the interview "Our plan is still to work with hardware partners." Given there is no chance the Ara phone is coming out in 2016, what does The Telegraph have here? Were they duped? A fibbing source is a tempting explanation, but there's probably a middle ground.
Here is what I think has happened - at least, what I think is likely. The Telegraph or its sources don't have the full picture, but a partial one. When this source heard "Google phone," an assumption was made. Namely, that this would not be a Nexus device, but something different. And herein I believe is where we can find a much more plausible explanation - it's still just a Nexus phone (and likely, phones), it just doesn't have any manufacturer partner branding on it.
There has been substantial scuttlebutt around this topic for months now. And when Sundar Pichai suggested Google would be more more "opinionated" in regard to the design of its Nexus smartphones, many took that to mean the rumors were true: no more manufacturer co-branded Nexus handsets. By asserting itself as the one and only brand behind the product, Google would, for the first time, enter the smartphone market as a player in its own right, instead of under the pretense of being a "showcase" for a given Android vendor. I believe there is a very real chance that the upcoming Sailfish and Marlin devices being built by HTC may actually have no HTC branding whatsoever - though we are confident these devices are being built by HTC. And this may be The Telegraph's elusive "Google phone."
There is also the possibility, however faint, that Sailfish and Marlin are not Nexus siblings, but divergent product lines. A smaller, cheaper device for the Nexus brand, with a larger, more premium handset bearing the Pixel moniker. This fits with the narrative fantasy that many in the Nexus and Google community have crafted, but again, we have no reason to believe that's the case. It's literally just a guess.
We'll be watching and waiting for further news of Google's phone endeavors, and keeping our collective ears to the ground for what information we can gather.
- The Telegraph