It's not a perfect story, of course. Google still has to figure out how to convince users that they want or need a 10-inch Android tablet. It needs to convince developers to make great apps for that tablet. It still needs to find a way to get its carrier and hardware partners onto its software release schedule. And it really, really needs to release a phone with LTE, at least here in America. A phone that real consumers can buy with a destiny owned and controlled by Google, not Verizon or AT&T. Not by anyone else.
And isn't that the promise of Android? Isn't that the promise of open? A phone or tablet that gives users something besides the status quo; that doesn’t lock them in, that doesn’t force them to compromise or capitulate? It seems like the Android team believes it, and it seems like they're trying to make it real — can make it real, as long as they stay the course.
To summarize, the following Google products have been announced and/or updated today:
Android 4.1 has reached 4.2. The latest version of the software includes gestural typing, Miracast compatibility, panoramic photography, and lockscreen and Google Now improvements. It will be available in the coming weeks for the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus and ships with the Nexus 4 and 10.
The latest Google flagship phone has been confirmed as the LG-built Nexus 4. Google has foregone carrier partnerships for the 4.7-inch 320ppi device, instead choosing to sell it independently starting unlocked at $299. Sadly, due to its independence, it currently lacks LTE so as to ensure widespread network compatibility.
The Nexus 7 has gained a 32GB, 3G-capable sibling, the Nexus 7 (32GB + Mobile). It will retail for $299 and the end-user will have options to set up cellular coverage with T-Mobile or AT&T.
The Nexus 10 is a 2560x1600, 300ppi tablet built by Samsung. It will retail for $399 for 16GB and $499 for 32GB. Otherwise, it's a fairly forgettable entry into the Nexus line.
Cutting through the cruft, the most important portion of today's announcements is the Nexus 4. Available unlocked and contract-free for $299, the Nexus 4 provides an unprecendently cheap window into the stock Android and Google-driven experience.
Amidst the positive pricing, however, lies a rather large problem. That is, Google is stuck between a rock and a hard place with regard to LTE and carrier relationships. M.G. Siegler summarizes the problem rather effectively:
The real issue here is that Google wants to sell an unlocked LTE phone and can’t because the U.S. carriers (Verizon in particular) have them over a barrel. And why do they want to sell unlocked phones (which are more expensive since they’re not subsidized by the carriers)? Because the carriers have proven time and time again that they will not allow Google to push timely Android updates.
It's a real shame that it's come to this for Google. Offering low cost devices outside of the grasps of carriers is an interesting and important tactic. But, at the same time, it's clear that Google is being hurt by this arrangement, and that carriers — regardless of Google's best efforts — remain utterly in control.
Although I'm impressed by the unlocked pricing of the Nexus 4, my overall sentiment for today's announcements — sadly — is not one of excessive excitement. Perhaps that will change as reviews begin to come out in the coming weeks.