Report: Google to expand Nexus device program to multiple OEMs

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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) plans to give multiple Android device vendors early access to the next version of its operating system as it expands its Nexus device program and tries to husband more control over the devices from carriers, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The report, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said Google may expand its Nexus program--previously reserved for one OEM to build a "lead" device with the latest Android software--to as many as five vendors. Google plans to sell the devices, including smartphones and tablets, to consumers in the U.S., Europe and Asia through its website and potentially through retailers, the report said. The devices will run the next version of Android, codenamed Jelly Bean.

Google declined to comment, according to the Journal.

Interestingly, the report also noted that the expansion of the Nexus program is being done to temper the concerns of other OEMs that Google might favor Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) over other vendors once Google's $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola officially closes. Google has said Android will remain an open platform once the deal closes, and the new model could allow Google to give Motorola and other OEMs a leg up at the same time.

The report follows a separate Journal report from March that said Google is going to sell co-branded Android tablets directly to consumers later this year via an online store.

The last two Nexus smartphones have been made by Samsung Electronics. Motorola produced the first tablet running Android and HTC produced the Nexus One, the first Nexus smartphone. Google's new Nexus strategy could potentially benefit other Android OEMs such as LG Electronics and Sony Mobile Communications that are struggling to keep pace with Samsung.

Additionally, since the new devices will be sold unlocked without carrier contracts, the plan could allow Google to bypass wireless carries even more, something that it has tried to do with middling success in th United States. Carriers have subsidized smartphones heavily in the U.S. market in return for customers signing up for two-year contracts.

Last month Google began selling an unlocked, HSPA+ version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone via its online Google Play store for $399, marking a return to direct Android smartphone sales for the mobile search giant. The device works on the GSM networks of networks of AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA; currently Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) sell CDMA-LTE versions of the Galaxy Nexus for $199.99 with a two-year contract.

The strategy is similar to the one Google employed to sell its Nexus One smartphone. The HTC-made, Google-branded device went on sale online from Google in January 2010 and was intended to be a showcase of the latest Android software at the time, 2.1, or Eclair. However, Google, HTC and T-Mobile USA, the carrier Google partnered with for the device, faced criticism from customers who were unsatisfied with the level of customer service they received, and unsure of which company to approach for customer service. Google shuttered the Nexus One online store after five months.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Wired article
- see this CNET article
- see this Computerworld article

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