Another year, another update to Android. While Google has gotten better at delivering a compelling experience on its mobile OS, it's hard to say the same about its attempts at rolling out flagship phones.
As someone who has owned every single Nexus from the Galaxy Nexus all the way up to the Nexus 5X, it's sad to see the company lose its way. The Nexus logo emblazoned on a smartphone used to imply cutting edge hardware at a reasonable price, along with the first OS updates for the best Android has to offer. Not any more.
For starters, let's talk about the company's choice of manufacturers. Since the inception of Android and the Nexus line, we've seen HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Huawei all take a stab at what Google envisages to be the paragon of the Android smartphone experience. It's as if Google executives draw names out of a hat annually.
Without a single hardware maker working on and iterating on the Nexus line year on year, it's tough to maintain a sense of consistency, and next to impossible to communicate a concrete road map of what to expect.
Imagine Samsung announcing a new Note phablet but then showing off something the size of an iPhone 4 instead - that's what Google's hardware strategy feels like at times. Android itself has been growing steadily with a slew of sweet features but the hardware from its makers suffers an identity crisis.
Take 2012 and 2013 for example: we were treated to LG's Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 respectively, both fantastic devices for their time. In 2014, we got the Nexus 6 by Motorola, which at the time was owned by Google.
The phone was not a particularly good successor to the two devices it followed up on. In one fell swoop, Google undid all the hard work of the past years in creating a uniform hardware design language. This year HTC is reportedly taking the reigns from LG and Huawei. Do we really want two more phones based on the HTC 10? All of this will simply confuse customers on what to pick up, assuming they gravitate towards Google's offerings at all. This will be particularly bad in India, where retailers call anything that runs Android a Google phone, no matter what brand's phone they're actually trying to sell. Of course things are likely to get even more complicated this year, when we might see the rumoured Nexus phones debut as actual Google phones.
If this isn't enough, the price has been a sticking point. The Nexus range was perceived as being affordable while packing high performance components, even though this hasn't actually been the case in the recent past.
When it launched, the Nexus 6 was available from Rs. 44,000 while the Nexus 6P was available at Rs. 39,999 onwards. The Nexus 5X - dubbed as the successor to the decently priced and specced Nexus 5 sported a Rs. 31,900 price tag.
In an age where flagship class phones such as the Xiaomi Mi 5 and OnePlus Three are available for considerably less, HTC's penchant for a premium price won't do it any favours either. It's as if Google hasn't learned from its past mistakes one bit.
Aside from this, by the time the 'Nexii' are out, we'll be seeing a price cut on a slew of flagships. In the case of Xiaomi, it's already happened and it's just a matter of time before others follow suit.
Meanwhile the competition has upped the ante on the software front. In the past, to get the most out of Android, you needed a Nexus device. That's no longer the case. Oxygen OS from OnePlus is close to stock, MIUI from Xiaomi improves on it by adding some useful features, though it's obviously far from stock Android. Even Samsung with crusty old Touchwiz is making an attempt to deliver a painless user interface, albeit with mixed results.
Sundar Pichai says that Google will be more opinionated with Nexus phones - or Google phones as they are now likely to be called - adding more features going forward. It's an admirable notion, but if its execution is anything like what we've seen with the brand of late, it just might be Google trying to figure out for itself what Nexus means. Until it does, you may be better off with another smartphone. I know I am.