End of the Nexus One

Google has announced that they are stopping production and soon, distribution of the Nexus One. As a proud owner of a Nexus One, this news saddens me a bit. Google’s bold move into the phone marketplace is generally (and justifiably, considering market penetration) considered to be a failure. But Google’s hands-on approach to the design and functionality of the phone have resulted in what I believe is the “sweet spot” of Android devices on the market today. The introduction of the Nexus One was a precursor to a number of “superphones” (Google’s term, not mine), with a new Android device seemingly toppling the king of the hill each month (the Droid Incredible, EVO, Droid X, Desire, etc). The Nexus One was the first Android phone able to run Android 2.1 (Eclair) and Android 2.2 (Froyo), and paved the way for the rapid expansion of these more advanced builds of the OS, which are approaching and even exceeding feature parity with iOS.

Even as the Nexus One and Android have reached feature parity with iOS, I still view them as only related products and not truly in the same market segment. iOS continues to rely on the computer-tethered syncing paradigm that has existed since at least the late ’90s with the Palm Pilot, if not earlier. Want to download a podcast to your iPhone? Better have a computer handy since you’re going to need to bust out a syncing cable to get it over to your phone. Android never actually has to be hooked up to a computer, not when it comes out of the box and not to sync… a beautiful side effect of storing your data in the cloud. In fact, the idea of computer-based syncing seems antithetical to Google’s ambitions for the platform. While some media syncing options exist (DoubleTwist is a standout option) Android can very easily be used as a standalone device (if and when T-Mobile puts a cap on their “unlimited” data will be a sad day for me indeed). Perhaps this is why Android seems to fall behind iOS in terms of being a media consumption platform. Regardless, I think Android, and to a lesser extent, iOS have broken away from the labels “PDA”, “smartphone” and Google’s regrettable moniker “superphone.” These are devices that have more processing power and capabilities than many home computers, their cameras are increasingly replacing point-and-shoot cameras and video recorders, and their use as a phone is seemingly such a small part of their utility. It’s time for a new name for these devices.

Back to the matter at hand. The Nexus One is ideal for the “have it your way” Android user, with Google pushing updates to the phone well before the carriers have sorted out what bloatware they will package in their own customized updates to the operating system. Additionally, the Android aftermarket developers have rallied to the N1 due to its extensible and open nature (the recent eFuse controversy shows just how fortunate users are that Google had a hand in keeping the N1 from such a fate). Indeed, I am using CyanogenMod 6 on my Nexus One since I find that using such custom ROMs greatly increases the performance of the phone and adds the kinds of awesome features and frequent updates that will continue to keep it fresh for a long time. The Nexus One seems to have been the pinnacle of openness for Android. Though HTC Sense and Motoblur may be all kinds of cool, I’ll take the choice to stay with vanilla Android any day. The recent trend towards bloatware being forced on consumers as a way to subsidize costs (does anyone really need an app to watch Avatar on their phones?) reminds me of the last time I got a new PC and had to reformat to get rid of the cruft. This disturbing practice, though profitable, shifts the emphasis from the consumer’s satisfaction to that of the carriers.

TL;DR-Let me choose how I use my phone. It’s why I chose Android and it’s why I am sad the Nexus One and Google’s open involvement won’t continue to be an example of a mobile ecosystem done right.

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