So Google didn't introduce a fancy new Nexus device at I/O in May. Blasphemy, right? With no flagship to speak of, and no mention of an Android update, one could argue the company's recent event was a bit of a clunker on the hardware side. But right under everyone's noses, Google has quietly strengthened its portfolio without lifting a finger. In fact, the company was as casual as ever.
Instead of counting on manufacturers to maybe get around to releasing Android updates, Google is taking firm control of its platform by offering some of today's most popular handsets. It still has the Nexus 4 to fall back on, which is the cheapest of the bunch. But it now offers what are two of the best Android handsets we've ever seen. Why even bother with making another Nexus this year at all? (A new Nexus is probably coming anyway.)
Android's biggest stain has always been fragmentation—it's a fact of Android ownership. And, although the problem is greatly improving, no device gets such unbridled access to the newest updates like a Nexus. For that matter, Android skins have arguably been a burden to the platform as a whole. Skins certainly have their good and bad points, but they sooner or later slow down the update process (as do carriers), meaning users could be months behind a recent version of Android.
Whether that's a huge issue or not is up to the individual user. But Google is making an effort to ensure the problem doesn't even exist in the future. Instead of putting focus on an annual flagship that sacrifices in one aspect or another, Google is bringing what are inarguably the world's best handsets to its stable. Enlisting the S4 and One as vessels to show off Jelly Bean is smart—even smarter is Google having control over how Android looks and acts on those devices.
You certainly compromise on features when choosing a vanilla OS, so it comes down to preference and priorities. Is the S4 or One stronger with stock Android or not? You also have to pay more from the beginning because of no carrier subsidy—$650 and $600, respectively is what you'll pay for the aforementioned phones. When all is said and done, though, Google is giving customers the opportunity to experience Android how it was meant to be experienced on some of the best hardware available.
Manufacturers will always use skins to differentiate. It's a pervasive existence that will never change. But that doesn't mean Google can't use those manufacturers to (some might say) better effect. Offering an entire portfolio of stock devices will allow developers to push the relationship between hardware and software. Hopefully, the availability of such high-profile stock devices will set a precedence for a more homogenous Android future.
With that said, are you going to pick up one of the new Google Edition devices? If so, do you mind throwing down a bit more money for access to the latest versions of Android straight-up? Or are you ok with the latest manufacturer skins?