Android Silver has been rumored by many a tech enthusiast, but we finally heard the confirmation from Google I/O 2014: from the mouth of Android Engineering Program and Nexus Head Dave Burke.
In a recent interview, Burke was asked about the long-held rumor that Google would scrap the Nexus line in favor of Android Silver. Burke responded that Google didn’t intend to kill the Nexus line, but he also alluded to Android Silver as a real program that already exists: “Android Silver isn’t something that we are commenting on right now.” In other words, Google has little to say at the moment about the program – but it is real. It’s very likely Google looks to unveil the program this Fall, perhaps with the arrival of the Nexus 6. Google will likely give the program it’s due at a later announcement, and doesn’t want to spoil it right now.
In addition to this, Burke also announced that the Nexus program isn’t going anywhere. “People have been commenting about Nexus because there is something else, and they think that means the end of Nexus. That is totally the wrong conclusion to make,” he said.
Burke went on to say, “People just get excited by concepts and forget why we do things. We are still invested in Nexus.” In short, there will be a Nexus 6. And notice that the Android Silver will be something different from Sundar Pichai’s new Android One program that’s intended for his home country of India.
While the company is still invested in Nexus, however, it could be the case that Google still decides to scrap its Nexus phones and emerge with Nexus tablets only. While Burke says that Google is still invested in Nexus, he didn’t come out exactly and say that “Google is still invested in smartphones.” With the company’s work in its 3D Project Tango, it’s clear that Google’s emphasis is in tablets these days. But its modular smartphone Project Ara and its commitment to bringing affordable smartphones via its new Android One reminds us that the company that started the Nexus line will continue to be a “Nexus” (or hub) of technology for the rest of the world.
One outcome of Android Silver could be, however, that some individuals that’ve been Nexus supporters since the Nexus One may decide that it’s more financially feasible to return to a two-year contract than afford a $400+ smartphone out of pocket. This could’ve some implications upon the current Nexus program as Google could begin to see its immediate out-of-pocket profits dwindle. If given the choice to pay $400 outright, or pay the same over a two-year contract, most consumers will go with the monthly arrangement. After all, even if you pay $445 for the 32GB Nexus 6 (as some paid for the Nexus 5), you’re still responsible for your monthly wireless service. If your wireless service is good, why would you want a prepaid phone arrangement when a contract would provide the same service with more time to pay for the price of the phone?
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There’s been some advantage to two-year contracts over the years. As Verizon Wireless’ recent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day deals have shown, customers are more likely to pay $99 out-of-pocket (or $149) than pay $250 for the Samsung Galaxy S5, or $199 for the HTC One M8. This may be Google’s thinking on the matter: the out-of-pocket costs for a family of 5, for example, will likely deter that same family from buying Nexus devices when all 5 family members can take advantage of Verizon’s $99 Galaxy S5 deal and walk out of the store having paid $500 for 5 phones, rather than $2200+ for 5 phones (and that’s not counting phone service and activation fees). While the Nexus line provides a contract-free experience, it also requires footing the full cost upfront. Some individuals can’t afford the full $445 out of pocket, and they’re the ones that Google has been unable to reach over the years. Google’s aim with the Android Silver program is to reach the average consumer, not to do away with the Android rooter/tech enthusiast/Google lover. Android Silver really has nothing to do with the Nexus line, in this mindset.
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In short, we don’t know what the Nexus 6 will hold, other than a wider display (above the current Nexus 5’s 4.95 inches), a new Android update (either Android 5.0 or Android 5.3), and either a brighter screen resolution, increased megapixel camera count, or both, and so on. What we do know, however, is that Android Silver won’t replace the Nexus line, but complement it. Still, there are a few unanswered questions remaining about what the whole point of Android Silver is, what Google intends to do with it for the future, and whether or not Mountain View will be able to place stock Android smartphones in the hands of customers before they’ve been out for 7 or 8 months (as was the case with Google’s 2013 Nexus 7 that arrived for the first time to US carrier Verizon Wireless earlier this Spring).
Even if Google is a search engine “giant,” it’ll take some strong, David-like faith to pull that one off.