When Android 5.0 “Jelly Bean” launches this fall, it will appear first on several new mobile devices sold by Google itself as part of the “Nexus” line.
That's according to a Tuesday story in the Wall Street Journal, which reports that Google is shifting its Android strategy so that it will not only give select mobile-device makers early access to new releases, but will also sell the resulting devices unlocked directly to consumers.
As many as five manufacturers may get privileged access to new releases of the mobile operating system, in fact, with an eye toward creating a “portfolio” of Nexus lead devices including both smartphones and tablets, the WSJ reported, citing “a person familiar with the matter.”
Google aims to sell those gadgets online and contract-free directly to consumers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, but retailers may be involved as well, the report suggests. U.S. Thanksgiving is reportedly the target date for the launch.
So Long, Fragmentation
While Android has clearly done enormously well, inconsistency and fragmentation are among the chief complaints about the Linux-based mobile operating system. This new strategy could ensure that more Android phones are running the latest version of the OS; it could also help other manufacturers create their own custom builds more quickly.
Such a strategy would also restore a significant degree of control back to Google, which has long been at the mercy of wireless carriers for pushing updates to consumers, as well as for decisions as to which apps can be included on the devices they carry. Verizon Wireless, for example, doesn't allow the Google Wallet app on Samsung's Galaxy Nexus device.
In addition, the new tactic could minimize device-makers' concerns over Google's pending Motorola Mobility acquisition, since it won't be just Motorola getting early access to new releases.
Not Without Risks
Bypassing wireless carriers, of course, has the potential to enrage the carriers themselves.
Then, too, there's the proven difficulty of selling handsets online to consumers, who have indicated in the past that they prefer to be able to touch them and try them out before buying.
Still, the shift could be an exciting one, removing as it would any disadvantage Android might face in its ongoing competition with Apple, which has always been at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to controlling its ecosystem.
A more unified front could also help in Google's ongoing legal battles over Android.
Your Move, Tizen
I spoke briefly with Google spokesman Christopher Katsaros this morning for confirmation, but he declined to comment on the story.
Meanwhile, I can't help but wonder what effect all this may have on the other mobile players, including most notably Linux-based (and Samsung-backed) Tizen along with Mozilla's own Boot to Gecko. If nothing else, it seems to me it might encourage them to step up their own efforts.
It looks as though competition in the mobile market just became tighter.