Did Google Just Declare Android Civil War with its “Premium Nexus”?

by: - Last updated on: October 15th, 2015

The launch in India of the new Nexus devices, the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X saw the use of a word that has generally not been associated with the range.

Premium.

Google India managing director Rajan Anandan and Global Director of Chrome and Android Marketing, David Shapiro, used the word time and again, especially while referring to the more expensive Nexus 6P. And a year after the company had been stressing the need to get Android out to the masses via the Android One initiative, it was talking about the massive growth in the premium segment of phones in India. “We have been surprised by the speed of the growth in the premium segment of the smartphone market in India,” Anandan said, clearly pointing out that the 6P was a Nexus for those with slightly deeper pockets.

nexus-india

For some Android purists, this was a bit of a surprise, given the fact that the Nexus had in the past been considered to be a device for geeks who treasured Pure Android and did not want skinned and expensive devices from other manufacturers. And while most Nexus devices (with the 4 and 5 being excluded) were expensive, they were pretty much considered to be in a zone of their own and not comparable to other Android phones, as well, they were about pure Android and quick updates. Even the Nexus 6, which actually came with a higher price tag than the Nexus 6P – Rs 43,899 ($649) – did not lay claim to being a premium device with its relatively routine plastic build (heck, there was not even an event to launch it).

The Nexus 6P, although priced a tad lower at Rs 39,999 ($499), is a very contrary beast indeed, with its brilliant all metal body and distinctive camera unit. And right through the launch, stress was laid on how it offered a best in class performance. A lot of attention was focused on the two features that according to many people (us included) had stopped the Nexus range from being a mainstream option – the camera and battery life. Yes, there was talk of Android Marshmallow and what it brought to the phone, but this was clearly a presentation aimed as much as the geeks as at the mainstream user. The message was clear: “Hey, this is a great looking, great performing phone. Sure, it costs a lot of money but hey, it is worth it!

And that really should add a new dimension to the Android flagship rivalry. For, in the past, expensive Android flagships, from the likes of LG, Samsung, Sony or HTC, had always taken on the iPhone as the adversary (although there was some sparring between LG and Samsung). Even relatively new players like Xiaomi, Asus, Lenovo and Meizu, preferred to consider the iPhone as the main competition, with other Android manufacturers mentioned mainly to stress the price difference. Be it in design or camera comparisons, it was the iPhone that was considered the enemy, with other Android phones coming into the picture only for the price comparisons or the benchmark scores.

Interestingly, the Nexus was seldom part of these comparisons. We did not see other manufacturers taking it on or comparing it with their own devices, because hey, Nexus was for the Geek at Heart. Sure, Nexus phones were good and ran pure Android, but none of them (barring perhaps the 4 with its glittery back) was a traffic stopper and well, their cameras were more mediocre than exceptional and battery life was generally on the lower side – a Nexus that lasted a day of heavy use was about as common as a Tyrannosaurus Rex in Chandni Chowk. And yes, that included the Nexus 6 as well.

We suspect that might change with the arrival of the 6P and the 5X – well, more with the 6P actually, given its design and hardware muscle (we love the compact feel of the 5X, really, but it is the junior of the two Nexii, to be brutally honest). This is a Nexus that screams ‘class’ with its metal build and design and well, with its price, as well – at the time of writing, you could get and LG G4 or a Samsung Galaxy S6 for a price in the vicinity of the Nexus 6p. And if it has indeed surmounted its camera and battery blues, those wanting a high-end Android device might suddenly start factoring the Nexus into their purchase equations, moving it out of the geek territory that it had occupied.

Nexus-6p-camera

Of course, if that happens, it would also rather interestingly bring the Nexus into the range of fire of other Android manufacturers – something that has not really happened before. LG and Huawei might refrain from the battle, as the devices are their own, but others might not be so gentle.

We are going to take the smartphone market by storm. You will have seen nothing like this,” Rajan Anandan predicted at the India launch.

We might not indeed. For, even when David Shapiro was comparing the size of the Nexus 6P with an unnamed phone (which had a very round home button beneath its display and looked right out of Cupertino), one of the mediapersons behind me whispered, “Dude, don’t compare it with the iPhone – that is much more expensive. Most people will compare it with the LG G4!” A similar comment was heard when the low light performance of the camera of the 6P was compared with that of iPhone 6s Plus and the Nexus 6, only this time the whisper also mentioned the Galaxy S6.

Of course, these are very early days and a lot will depend on the consumer response to the Nexus 6P and 5X. But if the devices do well, they might do so at the cost of not only the fruity-named Cupertino company but also their own Android brethren, who are unlikely to take to this kindly.

By making the Nexus unabashedly premium, Google might just have unleashed an Android civil war.

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  1. The bill of materials on all these smart phones is around $100 to $125.

    So even that $300 smart phone has plenty of margin.

    It is annoying that no manufacturer has yet stepped into the efficient market with a non-bloatware $300 fully featured device. But they don’t have to, because each major manufacturer is in a position to sell literally HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of smart phones, taking in the extra margin either in high priced direct sales, or via indirect sales from the telcos (who pay them back extra while re-marketing a bloatware loaded device).

    Google is no different, and to my knowledge, no one sells CyanogenMod devices pre-installed (with autoupdating) with no bloatware and no Google control. I am waiting for someone to step into that niche. In the interim, something like the Nexus 5x or the Motorola Pure is the best we can do. It costs reasonably 1.5x what it should cost and still has Google end of life-ing the updates on the phone (as they did on the Nexus 4) to force you into upgrading a device, that other than the replaceable battery, does not wear (let alone wear-out) and never becomes obsolete. A 4 year old phone looks just as new as a new phone. It’s a “ripoff” that you are forced to upgrade because Google and the manufacturers orphan your old phone. Regular people don’t want to figure out how to CyanogenMod their phones.

    You’re in India, and I am waiting for one of your readers to start selling refurbished and software maintained 3 year old phones with CyanogenMod to put an end to this price increase madness. I am sure a lot of your readers would prefer spending Rs 10,000 for a like new phone that works just as well as the Nexus 5x/6P.

    The current market state is annoying.

      1. Waste not, want not. Let the kids who want to spend their discretionary money on bling (instead of movies) go out and buy the newest iPhone 13s in rose platinum with diamonds.

      1. Let’s take the typical off brand new color TV (VIzio) sold at all the big box stores and on Amazon. $150.

        The BOM and the labor are the same. Marketing would be the same if there wasn’t an oligopoly amongst the manufacturers to not sell cell phones for $150. Taxes are the same. Transportation is less (it’s smaller and lighter).

        There is no reason other than an inefficient market why there are not $150 smartphones that do everything that $650 “premium” smartphone does.

        Remember how this all got started — Apple, the premium PC brand, introduced the premium smartphone. At first it did a few more things than everyone else, but now they all do the same. However, it doesn’t cost more than that $150 TV to make.

        What happened is that the 5 major manufacturers, one of which was bought by Google, one by Microsoft, and Apple themselves simply refuse to compete based on price beyond $375 dollar items. I’ve looked, there is nothing else available without Telco bloatware which they install to rip you off further down the line.

        You can try and make one up, but there is no excuse other than oligopoly restraint of pricing.

        1. I agree somewhat but I don’t think you could really compare brand like Celcius for example to a Bravia. There will be a quality difference and extra features would require not just materials but possibly licencing too.

          All sound systems do the same, it’s just some have better components and better performance. Would you say a $100 JVC system would have the same performance as a $2000 Pioneer system?

          1. Just go look at the bill of materials of a phone. A typical 2012 Nexus had a BOM of $150. But the memory, processor, display, and battery are now all cheaper. Even the iPhone BOM was only $220. The rest is profit.

          2. So packaging costs don’t exist. Time cost developing the handsets, again, marketing costs.

            I agree there is large margin on the handsets, but your forgetting a lot of the other costs that go into a product.

  2. The headline is misleading. Please review your article and find an appropriate headline. There’s no civil war in android. and these devices are meant to be premium! haters gonna hate!

      1. True, and several hundred dollars more than many Android ones too. Which is why they might get into the others’ range of fire. Oh and thanks for your kind words.

    1. Heavens, please read the article – I have not said that there is a civil war in Android, but that there could be. And that is exactly because these devices are meant to be premium. Where have I said that Android is bad or that I hate the new Nexus devices?

        1. This article was written for the situation in India. The market there is still maturing and very volatile. Save for the iPhone (which by the way is pricier in India compared to many parts of the world), the 6P would be in the same price range as the Galaxy S6 or the LG G4, as rightly pointed out in the article. Indians like to make informed decisions when purchasing technology since they don’t have contracts or carrier subsidised phones and have to pay for everything upfront. Couple that with low national average household income, and you are left with very few of the billion plus people in the top tier that can afford these phones in the first place. Hence the comparison and cut throat competition.

    2. Well the Nexus 6P at least, but the Nexus 5X is not a premium quality phone, it isn’t meant to be a premium quality phone.

  3. As someone with Nexus 6, I can say I have never had less than two days or of a single charge. I might not use it all day, all the time, but it is my primary phone for work and certainly gets quite a bit of use every day.

      1. Sure there are issues out there, but not sure there are only a few that don’t. There have been reports of this on XDA, but not lots.

        The only issue I have ever had is random reboots, and that was only after the last security update. Marshmallow seems to have fixed that though (fingers crossed).

        Maybe those of us in the UK received different stock?

  4. I have the 6 and get a full day of heavy use easy. 6 am to 10 pm or so and I use it all day, games calls texts etc.

    1. The big deal is it’s Google. And Nexus was not deemed to take on premium Android phones in the past. Remember Google Play Edition of flagship phones? They stopped that as well.

      1. This is the first I’ve heard of the Nexus “taking on” anything. Thus while civil war is aa bunch of nonsense, more HYOE built by the media just to talk about something. So its a premium Nexus. So what? By default, the Nexus isn’t going to threaten anyone’s market share anyway. I’m getting the 6P, but I generally go with Nexus in the first place, so when I see the Nexus 6 Premium, I’m thinking more like ‘finally’ than any of this silliness.

        Google isn’t going to make any moves to bully anyone. I mean they could, but the more Android in people’s hands, the more data for them. Android just so happens to make these other OEMs a lot of money too.