the release of the Nexus S. Undeterred by the lackluster response to its first handset, the Nexus One, the device will be the first handset to use the Android 2.3 software, which is also known as Gingerbread. From a hardware perspective, the device adds little to existing Android handsets such as the Samsung Galaxy S and the HTC Desire HD.
With more than 80 Android handsets currently available and 300,000 phones being activated per day, the launch of the Nexus S is unlikely to make an impact on the wider Android market. However, the fact that Google is persevering with the Nexus brand shows that is still sees value in the venture, if only to showcase the latest version of the Android software in its pure form.
NFC comes to Android: limited impact without payment applications
Aside from a small number of new features, the hardware of the Nexus S is largely similar to many top-of-the-range Android smartphones in the market today. In fact, the handset is almost identical to the existing Galaxy S Android handset from Samsung (the company which also built the Nexus S), sharing the same screen size and processor.
One of the most significant hardware features of the Nexus S is the inclusion of a near-field communications (NFC) chip, which is supported in Android 2.3 onwards. NFC has long been heralded as the “next big thing” in the mobile industry, promising to change the way we make purchases by turning handsets into electronic wallets.
However, at the launch, Google was only promoting the technology as little more than a glorified barcode reader, being used to read location information and URLs from smart tags. Given Google’s investments in payments infrastructure through Google Checkout, it would have been nice to see Google kick start the nascent industry by launching a mobile payment system.
However, without even a mention of payment applications at launch, we must conclude that the company believes the market currently lacks sufficient maturity.
Use of sales partners illustrates the value of physical retail channel
One of the most interesting aspects of the original Nexus One handset was the sales model which Google adopted, choosing to bypass the mobile operators and sell directly to customers through its own e-commerce site.
This approach turned out to be a misjudgment by Google, as it soon became apparent that customers wanted to see and touch the handset before parting with their money, and subsequently the site was shut down after just six months, with Google instead selling the handset through mobile operator partners.
Google has clearly learnt its lesson this time though, and is selling the Nexus S through retail partners – initially through Best Buy in the US and UK and Carphone Warehouse in the UK. While this does seem like a more sensible approach, the handset is unlikely to stand out when placed on sale next to similar Android handsets which have the benefit of user-interface enhancements added by many OEMs.
Fragmentation issue leads to uncertainty for hardware partners and app developers
Despite using the Nexus S to show showcase an unmodified version of the Android 2.3 software, Google is still yet to directly address the issue of fragmentation in the Android market. With the majority of Android hardware partners adding custom user-interface elements and applications to help differentiate their handsets, there are often significant delays in updating handsets to the latest version of the software, which can also lead to issues with application compatibility. While it has been anticipated that Google will make moves to rein in this fragmentation, the company is clearly not ready to do so yet.
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