Google fragments stock Android with Nexus 5

Google fragments stock Android with Nexus 5

Summary: Since the birth of the Nexus product line its draw has been the inclusion of stock Android without augmentations. That stops with the Nexus 5.

Nexus 5 listening
Nexus 5 listening (Image: Google)

Google's Nexus line of phones and tablets has always had one draw for buyers -- the use of stock Android. Nexus products have always debuted with what's come to be known as Android in its purest form, without modifications by an OEM or a carrier. That was assumed to continue with Google's latest member of the Nexus line, the Nexus 5. It turns out that's not the case as several features of "stock" KitKat on the Nexus 5 are exclusive to that phone.

Using a pure form of Android on the Nexus products has been a good draw for those wanting to skip any augmentations from companies outside Google who customize their versions of Android. Nexus buyers could be sure that what they were getting on their Nexus phone or tablet was stock Android. This meant it was a pure Google phone, outside of the hardware.

That's still sort of the case with the latest phone, the Nexus 5. The Android used on the Nexus 5 is pure Google, but according to J. R. Raphael of Computerworld, Google has confirmed that a few features on the Nexus 5 will not be part of KitKat distributed to other partners. These features include the home screen integration of Google Now and the ability to initiate a Google search by speaking "okay, Google" while on the home screen.

This is significant as the version of Android previously used on Nexus products has been the raw version that OEMs get for modification. With exclusive features on the Nexus 5, Google is behaving like its partners and customizing Android for its own products. It may give reasonable excuses for such customization, but the fact is now stock Android is fragmented, and by Google.

This may turn out to be a minor event, but it's such a big change from the status quo that it's worth noting. It means there is no such thing as stock Android that is available to customers by Google. While fragmentation has long been a complaint about Google, that's never been the case with devices by Google. Until now.

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Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Smartphones

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  • You're a terrible writer.

    You're a terrible writer.
  • so then apple is fragmented because they release iOS

    with the same version # to many different older devices, but various functionality is left out. For example no Siri on older devices, etc.
    But so what - I think its time for google to put their own exclusive stuff in their phones. Look at what samsung is doing. I am purchasing an S4 over a nexus 5 because of all the stuff samsung throws in. The "pure android experience" is appearing a bit too "pure" (lacking) these days.
    • Yes ios fragmented. But this is different. This is fragmentation without

      legitimate hardware reasons for doing so. Bet it won't be long until this comes to all moto devices though. But don't be evil.
      Johnny Vegas
  • Isn't there a difference though?

    Can't you turn off the Google launcher if you want to? I know you can't turn off Sense or Touchwiz if you want to.
    • you can install a launcher like nova on any phone

      to get back at least stock homescreen and drawer.
  • This isn't a minor event

    It's a non-event.
    Who cares?
  • What will the unified Google interface between humans and the web look like

    When Google gets there in about a year (in a year and a half) it won't look or feel fragmented. Until then feel free to write: fragmented, fragmented ..fragmented a thousand times on your blog.
  • WRONG!

    The Nexus 4 came with swipe up from bottom for Google Now. Also photosphere WAS exclusive to the Nexus 4 at first. AND Google swype keyboard was introduced only on the Nexus 4 (at first).
  • Idon'tlikesubjects

    From the sounds of it, google is including raw Android with the Nexus, and just restricting the feature set for other OEMS. The extra features they included in the Nexus 5 cannot count as the usual OEM bloat, but rather interesting, cool and liteweight additions to the OS. Nothing detrimental to the user - Just means other OEMs will miss out on the true google experience when they upgrade to 4.4
  • Article is way off point.

    Google is using the Nexus 5 as a test bed for some extreme changes to Google Now integration. This has nothing to do with fragmentation.
  • Different kinds of fragmentation

    What you're talking about here matters very little to buyers. Or more properly, it's positive fragmentation, if it's fragmentation at all. What these amount to, most of what Google does here, what HTC and Motorola and Samsung bake into their products are rarely more than customized home screen shells. Thus may change the UI a little bit, but it's pretty likely a minor thing to a user, if it's a thing at all. I'm typing this on a Note 8, which recently replaced my buster Transformer Infinity, and I have an almost two year old Galaxy Nexus in my pocket. Tiny differences, sure... but not much different than going fromOC to PC.

    And 100% optional on any tablet. The Home Shell is basically like your choice of web browsers... if you had the choice of a couple of hundred web browsers. Don't like the home shell on your device? Get a new one, including dozens based on bog standard Android home shells.. after all, that code is all available to programmers.

    The fragmentation that matters is API fragmentation. That means you can't get new programs to work on older devices. Apple does that in spades. They are generally very good about device support: they put iOS7 on the three year old iPhone 4, at the very same time Google is dropping support for the not-even-two-year-old Galaxy Nexus. Good for Apple, evil of Google.

    However, that's one view. The other is around the OS... if you kept iOS6 on your iPhone 4 (maybe you have heard iOS7 runs poorly on it), in six months you'll have a hard time finding things for the iPhone 4. Developers tweak for the new OS, they pay no attention to older versions. This also affects updated older apps -- you may not get any updates ever again. This forces older devices into an upgrade or retire decision. Bad if you're the user, and see no advantage in an OS upgrade right now.

    On the other hand, there's an excellent chance that pretty much everything in the Play Store will still run on my Galaxy Nexus in another two years. Google has not yet framented the APIs, and Android apps can ask for the features they need from the OS... this works all they way back to Android 2.2. Some OS APIs still get updates and bug fixes to these system components. This is the lack of fragmentation, not the meaning of it.