Why Google Might Just Kill the Nexus Dead

Since its inception, Google's Nexus line has been a showcase for pure, untouched Android in some of the finest hardware available. It's produced probably the best Android phone yet. And Google would be crazy not to kill it.

Yesterday, Russian blogger Eldar Murdazin sparked a rumor that the Nexus line will in fact die out in 2015. Is it true? Are his sources accurate? Who knows! But either way, there's something you can't deny: It makes perfect sense. For Google, anyway.

Nexus Isn't Special Any More

Once upon a time, the Nexus phone stood alone. It was Google's pure-Android flag-bearer against a growing legion of phones with ugly software skins, loaded with bloatware. It was a picture of what Android phones could be if everyone else wasn't messing it all up.

Of course, the Nexus line has always been more than just a way to help consumers mainline pure Android. It's also a handshake between Google and the companies that make its phones. Cut the bullshit out of just one phone, and Google will hold it up as champion. The Android Phone, sold on the cheap to go around the carriers and get it in as many hands as possible.

It's a compromise for the hardware maker and Google alike, but one worth making. So much so that pretty nearly every major Android OEM manufacturer has taken its turn in the driver's seat. Even the ones that are in love with bloatware and skinning. The Nexus line maintains an uneasy truce.

But since the Nexus program started, the calculus has changed. Google started offering some of the best Android hardware as stock "Google Play Edition" smartphones. While expensive—they come unlocked and, therefore, unsubsidized—Google Play devices manage to achieve that same showcasing effect the official Nexus line does, while adding the element of choice. That move alone fixed one of the most frustrating things about the Android experience. In many ways, it's made the concept of a "Nexus phone" irrelevant. These are all Nexus phones, just without the branding or the cut-rate pricing.

But Moto X Is

The one major Android hardware partner who doesn't have a Nexus device is, of course Motorola. This might seem counterintuitive; ever since Google acquired Moto in 2011, Android nerds and the tech press alike have been heralding the eventual arrival of a homegrown Nexus. Google's software, Google's hardware; it only makes sense.

But despite all the lovely pure-Google that would offer to consumers, such an arrangement not be received well by Google's many Android partners. If Google starts playing favorites with the hardware company in its own back pocket, there are going to be some unhappy handset makers. They might not have anywhere else to turn just yet, but it's inevitable that someday they will. Google doesn't want to make it any easier for them to turn tail.

So instead of a Nexus device, Google and Motorola released the Moto X, a beautiful, affordable phone that doesn't run stock Android; it runs stock Android plus. Motorola is turning skins and bloatware on its head, making them into lively attractions instead of dead weight. There's no Moto Nexus because the Moto X has software that's better than a Nexus. It's an evolution, the ghost of future Android living in a present-day host. The Moto X hasn't killed the Nexus, but it's done the next-best thing; it's made it seem inferior from day one.

And That's Best for Everyone

Top Android hardware from every major player in Google Play Edition packaging. Motorola smartphones that feel like stock Android with a cherry on top. With those two pieces in place, where does the Nexus fit in?

It's an elegant—maybe even sneaky—solution to a whole lot of problems all at once. Hardware makers don't get a chance to have their phone be The Anointed One, but they don't have to go out of their way to craft a phone for especially for Google anymore. They can just take a flagship, outfit it with naked Android, and throw it on the Google Play Store for the nerds to pay full price for. Everyone on the same off-contract even footing.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, in physical carrier stores, ads on the subway, commercials on TV, Google can push its new crowd-pleaser in peace. Besides, stock Android isn't the high bar anymore, it's Motorola Android that you want. Android that's augmented, not handicapped. And as a bonus, Google can finally put to bed a problematic (and deserved) stigma that a Nexus is for nerds. The Moto X is a phone for anyone. For everyone. Especially when it comes cheap. And the Moto neXt? Undoubtedly more so.

Nexus may or may not be dead in a year. But regardless of what actually happens, a world with Google Play Edition and Motorola taking its place would make a whole lot more sense.