Opinion: Should Google build their own smartphone?

Rumors suggest that Google is building their own smartphone. Is the Nexus project not working anymore? What will happen to Samsung, LG and others?

At the end of June an interesting rumor popped up that Google is planning to build their own smartphone from scratch. A proper Android fan will tell you that the stock Android OS (found on the Nexus devices) is the only “real” Android software to use. If Google takes reins of both the hardware and software departments what will it mean for the likes of their partners (Samsung, LG, HTC etc.) and more importantly what will it mean for their customers?
The report, published by The Telegraph, states that the Google Phone will appear “by the end of the year” and that it will exist in addition to the Nexus program, which the report says is “expected to continue this year with handsets made by Taiwanese company HTC.” Recent comments by Google CEO Sundar Pichai indicates that the company is becoming significantly more invested in the direction of Android, which it previously let its hardware partners assume the responsibility of growing.
Google recently reorganised the company establishing “Alphabet” as the holding company for various tech divisions. You will also find a single hardware division under the stewardship of former Motorola CEO Rick Osterloh, who will now oversee products like the Nest and Dropcam smart home products, Nexus smartphone and tablets, Chromecast dongles, the Project Ara modular smartphone and Chromebooks. Could this division become a lot more prominent over the next year?

The Nexus Project

For a few years now the Nexus project has been the only outlet for Google to display its original vision behind the Android OS for smartphones (apart from their Pixel line of products). The company recently partnered with Huawei and LG to produce the Nexus 6P and 5X respectively and if the “Marlin” and “Sailfish” rumors are true, HTC will be tasked with the next Nexus models. Google, to a degree, has been in the “build our own smartphone” before when they owned Motorola. They eventually sold the company to Lenovo and many analysts agree that this was a peace treaty move between Google and Samsung. The same week that the Motorola sale was announced, Google and Samsung signed a 10-year cross-licensing deal.
Read: Renders reveal Google‘s new Nexus phone
I guess that is exactly what the Nexus line is supposed to be. A balance between Google having some control around their operating system vision without directly competing with their OEM partners. The Nexus partner rotation is also part of this agreement. Essentially Google has been playing “nice” with all of their smartphone partners because they were and still are the primary vehicle for Google to deliver its OS and services to the world. This strategy has been a raging success with 4 out of every 5 smartphones currently being shipped with Android. The Google OS has driven many an OS (apart from iOS) to near extension. Blackberry OS (and the company for that matter) is dead and Windows Phone OS is hanging on only via Microsoft’s life support.

Rocking the Boat

The Nexus project is a mutual agreement, but I feel that Google might be rethinking how much benefit they actually receive these days. It is no wonder rumors suggest that Google might be building their own flagship smartphone when you look at their biggest competitor – Apple. The legacy of Steve Jobs and now Tim Cook & Jony Ive clearly depicts a smartphone vision. A product where all components harmoniously interact to form something special. For all of their achievements with Android, Google has yet to experience or provide a truly integrated smartphone experience.
I have to admit, the services and pure innovation Google has introduced over the past few years has been consistently better than that provided by Apple. Apple seems to be behind the 8-ball with most innovations but usually implements features a lot better than any other company. Why? Becuase they have direct hardware and software control. The broken telephone approach Google and its partners follow sometimes lead to great ideas being poorly implemented and eventually forgotten.
Read: Google is reportedly developing its first non-Nexus phone
All of that is about to change. I think that Google has now reached a stage where their market position is so strong that they can start rocking the boat and competing directly with their partners. Sure, some of them won’t be happy and might go to the extreme of jumping OS ship but come on – most of these companies have had to foresee this day coming. Google would be quite happy to anger a partner or two to achieve their ultimate vision of an in-house built Google Android smartphone.

Next Steps

Google will be smart about this. They will (if they haven’t already started) have detailed talks with its partners to make sure that the change management process which will see a Google built smartphone goes as smooth as possible. Promises might include making sure that the full functionality of future Android OS’s is made available to OEMs not to give the Google phone an advantage. This might be subject to forcing Google partners to provide the latest Android update to their users quicker.
Read: Google might release slow-to-update Android vendor naughty list
Whatever happens one thing is for sure. The consumer wins. Competition has always been good for the end user and hopefully, should these rumors prove true, smartphone companies will be forced to pull up their socks to retain and attract smartphone customers. Hey it might actually wake Apple from its “revenue is still growing” slumber and force them to be more proactive in the future.
Never the less, exciting times lay ahead!
What are your thoughts on the matter? Should Google build their own phone and how will they juggle competition with their partners? Let us know in the comment section below.
Check out episode 46 of Bandwidth Blog On Air where we discuss the issue as well.

Follow Jaco van der Walt on Twitter: @Jaco_vdWalt