Yesterday, the Google Play Store sold out of 8GB Nexus 4 phones. And they have no plans to replenish that stock.

That out of the way, let’s look at the speculations for the next Nexus phone (if it’s even called a Nexus). There’s 2 frontrunners for the next Nexus phone – LG, who made the Nexus 4, and Motorola, who came out with the Moto X and are a Google company. There’s an outside bet it’d be HTC, who made the Nexus One, but they already have their flagship phone which is doing pretty well (though not helping the company’s balance sheet nearly as much).

A little history behind the Nexus phones would help better understand where it’ll come from next. After HTC’s foray with the Nexus One, which was widely well received, but not bought as much, came Samsung with the Nexus S. This was modelled on the Galaxy S line, hence the ‘S’, not because Superman used it. (That would be awesome, though.) This was my first Android, and was a decent just below top of the line Android phone, which in those days wasn’t saying much. There wasn’t a clear market for Android yet, so no clear market leader either. All that changed with the acceptance of the Galaxy S II, where Samsung went all out and came up with a robust, dependable and not very different from iPhone phone, which most people immediately took a liking to. By now, Samsung had clearly cornered the majority market share for Android. All the same, Google decided to repeat the manufacturer for next Nexus, releasing the Galaxy Nexus, which did even better than the Nexus S, though that still didn’t reach a critical mass.

At this point, somehow Google’s algorithms realised that Samsung had way too much clout in the Android market, and even in the overall phone market, and they needed to support another manufacturer, if only to prop up the market competitiveness. They turned to LG, who were in development phase for a flagship phone to be called the Optimus G. Using the specifications of the G, but Google’s own hardware design language, they jointly came out with the Nexus 4. For a change, we had a Nexus that was a top of the line model, priced off-contract at $299 (for 8GB, and $349 for 16GB) and wasn’t missing anything. In fact, it looked and felt gorgeous, in construction, design, and even had a faux-retro disco shimmer on the back that was a ‘cool’ shift from the standard black plastic slabs. The phone was hotly anticipated, and when released, was sold out in 30 minutes!

But this is where things started going wrong. After the first batch on 13th November 2012, there was no sign from Google of where to obtain an unlocked phone, when it would be available, and whether they even had stock. By the time it was available again on the store on 27th November, a lot of people had lost interest. Those who hadn’t had to undergo painful online purchase issues and faulty stock-out notices. This would’ve softened the hardest of fans, but Google still had many more supporters (me included) who were waiting for a chance to get their hands on this device.

This is where things went REALLY wrong. Google blamed LG‘s production capacity for the inventory problems. Google’s UK MD issued an unreserved apology, though this wasn’t an official statement by Google through any of its official channels. On the other side of the fire, LG blamed Google‘s forecasting inability to correctly predict and plan production volumes, resulting in the shortfall. (Man, if you’re gonna sell a top of the line phone unlocked for less than half the price of its rivals, maybe my 6 year old cousin can help you out with your forecasting.)

It was pretty clear that these two nice companies would have nothing to do with the next Nexus, but it’s never quite so crystal clear, is it? I mean who can argue with great sales and market share, not to mention a chance to hitch a ride on Google’s marketing and branding machine.

While this relationship was in limbo, we had Motorola finally waking up to realise that Google owned it, and had to do something about the opportunity. (Or was it the other way around?) After 18 months of clearing out their ongoing product pipeline, they finally released among their standard flagships, a new kind of flagship called the Moto X. This wasn’t intended to be a spec-battle anymore, but a re-imagining of the standard Android phone. No one needed a 1080p display, 720p is just fine. No one needs a crazy thin phone, it should fit the hand just right. No one needs to touch their phones all the time, they can speak.

With these and other directives in mind, Googorola set about designing a phone experience slightly different form the standard, where you can talk to your phone to unlock it, call a number, or send a message. Your phone can understand when it’s in your pocket, when outside. When you’re driving, so it can shift into ‘Car mode’. It has many features designed to make interactions easier and more intuitive, while keeping the battery alive for a whole day of regular use. Though this phone’s only just gone on sale, reviews state that this is the new paradigm of Android. That this sets the trend for what the next Android phones should be.

How well the Moto X does remains to be seen, but one can be sure that Google can coordinate better with Motorola production to avoid issues that plagues the Nexus 4. What isn’t so clear is:

  1. Whether Google will pair up with Motorola to make the Nexus 5. (On pure technical and development logic, this is obviously the best option.)
  2. Will Google go again with LG and repeat the pattern it had with Samsung? This could be to prove to Android OEM partners that Motorola has no special status, and that Google will treat it as just another OEM partner. Plus, apart from the inventory issues, the Nexus 4 was a clear success on any terms.
  3. Will Google pick a rank outsider like HTC or even Sony, ZTE, Huawei or Xiaomi? This would help prop up the top end of the OEM market again, since Samsung has essentially gained too much prominence to the point where the Galaxy / Samsung brand is overtaking the Android brand.
  4. Or is the Moto X already the Nexus 5?

Let me know your thoughts.

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