What Does Nexus Mean for Android Anymore?

The reason you buy a Nexus phone isn't just because it's the best Android phone. It's a pure distillation of everything Google has to offer. The best Android can possibly be at a given moment in time.

But that won't be the case for the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon. It'll be missing a pretty big chunk of Google's vision of the near future: Google Wallet. Wallet is precisely the kind of thing that the Nexus is supposed to be about—a pulsing little slice of the future, straight from Google, in your hand.

So why isn't it there?

Google told us:

Verizon asked us not to include this functionality in the product.

But Verizon says:

Recent reports that Verizon is blocking Google Wallet on our devices are false. Verizon does not block applications.

Google Wallet is different from other widely-available m-commerce services. Google Wallet does not simply access the operating system and basic hardware of our phones like thousands of other applications. Instead, in order to work as architected by Google, Google Wallet needs to be integrated into a new, secure and proprietary hardware element in our phones.

We are continuing our commercial discussions with Google on this issue.

Samsung, who makes the Galaxy Nexus hardware, directed us back to Google.

Verizon does not block applications. This is strictly true, according to Google's statement. Verizon didn't "block" Google Wallet after Google released it. Verizon asked Google to not include a feature in its phone, and it agreed.

"Open" has long posed something of an ontological crisis for Android. Is Android open? To what and whom? For geeks, "open" is Android's rallying cry. For most people, "open" in the context of an Android phone has little to do with its open source soul—it's largely open for carriers like Verizon and manufacturers like Samsung to contort and change it however they like, in a way that they cannot with the iPhone and Windows Phone.

Nexus phones have not been "open" in that sense. They've been Google's defining vision of Android, the way Android is supposed to be. What does it mean that Google compromised the Nexus, its tiny beacon of what's next, at the request of a carrier—especially when you consider that part of the mission of the original Nexus was to upend the entire carrier model of buying phones?

We're not really sure we want to find out.

(FWIW, Verizon's explanation is curious, for a few reasons. For one, Wallet runs perfectly well on the Galaxy Nexus. Secondly, the Google Wallet secure element is embedded in the NFC chip itself. Thirdly, Verizon's spent, with AT&T and T-Mobile, $100 million on a Google Wallet rival called ISIS.)