Analyst Perspective on Nexus S, Android 2.3: Negative
Google and Samsung's Nexus S smartphone will be available for purchase next week, giving consumers their first look at the much-anticipated Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread, mobile operating system.
And while the next-gen smartphone will include a number of new features -- most notably a near field communications (NFC) chip for wireless transactions and data exchange -- at least one analyst is wondering aloud whether Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) strategy of bypassing major wireless carriers and, at least initially, offering the Nexus S only to handful of retailers will tick off its Android partners, stymie sales in the U.S and further fragment the Android market just as it's hitting its stride.
"There is a lot to like in this announcement; Samsung's hardware looks slick, the virtual keyboard needed improvement, and there are nice tweaks to the UI that will make it easier to see and lower battery consumption a bit," Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart wrote in a research report. "However, Google is willfully upsetting its carrier and hardware partners by sidestepping the normal distribution channel and favoring individual hardware vendors (Samsung, in this case)."
Co-developed by Google and Samsung, Nexus S will be available in the U.S. at Best Buy on Dec. 16. The unlocked version can be had for $529. Customers willing to ink a two-year service contract with T-Mobile can get their hands on it for $199. UK customers will have to wait until Dec. 20 to pick it up at their local Carphone Warehouse outlets.
The updated Android 2.3 mobile OS features an improved keyboard with multitouch support, support for NFC, a more intuitive user interface and VoIP/SIP support.
The hardware has been spruced up with a contoured design and 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen. Under the hood, it has a 1 GHz Hummingbird chip, 16 GB of internal memory and a 5-megapixel camera with HD video capture as well as a front-facing VGA camera. Gamers particularly will appreciate a new gyroscope sensor to say nothing of the access to more than 100,000 apps available on Android Market.
But Greengart suggests Google might have been better served waiting until Android 3.0 is fully cooked -- and ready for to take on Apple's iOS 4.2 among the tablet PC crowd -- rather rushing out the Gingerbread-powered Nexus S in time for the holiday shopping season.
"Google is also risking further OS fragmentation for relatively minor API/UI gains," Greengart wrote. "Why not just wait until the Android 3.0 release, which includes a completely new UI in addition to explicit tablet functionality?"
Greengart also said the co-development partnership with Samsung might not sit so well with other smartphone vendors who have been instrumental to driving Android's rapid growth and adoption, making it a viable if not formidable competitor to Apple's iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry, Nokia's Symbian devices and Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 alternatives.
"This strategy almost seems like it was designed to upset carriers and other Android partners. Android is growing too quickly for carriers to shun it entirely (and vendors have few good alternatives), but the original Nexus launch invited carrier retribution such as search deals with Microsoft," he wrote.
While the NFC support is intriguing and likely a direct response to growing speculation that Apple will soon be incorporating the technology in its iPhones as a digital wallet, it may be too early for Google and Samsung to be hanging their hats on such a neophyte technology.
"While NFC is getting a lot of buzz in the press, Google is not claiming it is for payments, but for passing URLs to the phone via live posters, in other words, a fancier version of QR codes (those symbols you take pictures of to get a URL for a movie trailer)," Greengart added. "If that is all they are used for, who cares?"
In his recommendations, Greengart gave this advice: "Google should go big or go home: either launch ad-subsidized unlocked multi-mode products that work across all U.S. carriers, or stop the Nexus line and work with carriers and vendors like a normal mobile OS company."