Is anything ever really dead in the mobile world? Two years ago, leading up to the launch of the first Nexus Android smartphone, Google launched a hopelessly doomed smartphone revolution, bypassing the traditional mobile carrier avenue in favour of direct sales to the consumer. At the time Google’s intention was to mirror the openness and innovation of the Android OS by giving the consumers the same kind of unrestricted purchasing experience, the experiment didn’t ever work as planned.
Not only did Google immediately come under fire from carriers—expected, given the fact that carriers make their money off contracts for phones like the Nexus—but many consumers shied away from Google’s online store as well, wanting instead to get their hands on a phone before purchasing.
Shortly thereafter Google scrapped the project, stating that while Android was a hit the online store simply was not. But, as expected, nothing stays dead forever, and Google is looking to revive its failed mobile revolution and restart its controversial online sales program once again.
Since that direct sales debacle I wrote about two years ago to the day, Google’s Android strategy has been rigidly uniform. To date, preceding the release of any Android update, Google has partnered with only one select hardware maker (anyone else think that it’s been exclusively Samsung for awhile now?) to create a “lead device,” after which the search engine giant releases the new software to other device makers. Those flagship devices, smartphones or tablets, were then sold to consumers through the traditional wireless carrier or retailer route.
But according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Google’s Android modus operandi is about to change, as leading up to the release of the next Android iteration (Jelly Bean) the company will partner with up to five different manufacturers at a time, creating a portfolio of Nexus devices (both phones and tablets) that it will sell to consumers both directly through its website and through some select retailers.
While some may question Google’s revival of an already failed practice, consider the place the search engine giant currently finds itself. With its acquisition of Motorola all but complete, Google needs to find a way to get Motorola the newest Android updates as quickly as possible, yet it needs to do so without alienating any of its other partners. So, in an effort to not anger the likes of Samsung and HTC (currently the makers of the top Android devices), the fact is that Google needed to change its strategy.
Beyond keeping the Android ecosystem copacetic, it’s clear that with this direct-sale strategy Google is looking to reign in Android fragmentation, creating a more uniform Android experience so consumers and developers know what to expect from the platform.
But will Google find success with a strategy its only found failure with in the past? To its credit in the two years since it attempt this bold revolution Android has firmly established itself as the dominant OS in the market, but that still doesn’t take into account the mobile carriers, most of whom, I would wager, won’t be happy about Google once again doing an end-around on the traditional distribution process.