“The Google phone is coming, the Google phone is coming!” Towards the end of 2009 the prospect of a Google-branded Android smartphone was lighting up the tech blogosphere. Google had already been selling the Android Dev Phone 1 to developers, but it was basically a SIM-free, unlocked HTC Dream. The idea that Google might sell its own smartphone directly to consumers was genuinely exciting.
Thankfully, when it did arrive, it wasn’t called the Google Phone. Little did we know that the HTC-made Nexus One would only be the start of something much bigger. Join us as we take a look back at the Nexus family, from its humble beginnings with the Nexus One to ending with the latest members in the family, the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9.
On January 5 2010 Google announced the Nexus One officially and it was to be the first device to run the new Android 2.1 Eclair. It had a 3.7-inch AMOLED display (later versions would switch to Super LCD), a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM, 512MB of storage (190MB available), and a 1400mAh battery. It also featured a 5MP camera with auto-focus, LED flash, and digital zoom. Manufactured by HTC, the Nexus One had a premium unibody design. It went on sale through Google’s online store for $529.
In 2010 January 5th, the Nexus One arriving, bringing along with it the ethos of what we see today. It was a showcase platform, a reference device of sorts for developers and OEMS to take note and orbit their designs around.
In terms of specs the Nexus One definitely shook the market up and pushed things forward. The screen was considered big at the time and the Nexus One was generally praised for being a powerful smartphone, but it wasn’t a smash hit. HTC would actually have more success with the Desire which was very similar, but sold with the HTC brand, Sense UI, and through traditional carrier routes.
Google sold about 20,000 units in the first week, and ten weeks in Flurry estimated sales had reached 135,000. People weren’t used to buying phones at full price online from Google and it was relatively expensive. The fact that Google initially partnered with T-Mobile in the US didn’t help either, as it had limited network coverage compared to Verizon and AT&T. There were also issues with support, as people with problems were shunted from T-Mobile to Google to HTC.
A lot of people wrote it off as a failed experiment, but Google definitely learned a lot. It began to sell the Nexus One through retail channels and shut the web store down in May 2010. The Nexus line was only just getting started.
The Nexus name
In December 2009 Google filed a trademark application for the name “Nexus One”, but in March 2010 it was denied because a company called Integra Telecom was already using it. This wouldn’t stop Google from using it, but it could leave them open to a lawsuit. Integra never sued, so presumably they came to some kind of agreement.
There was another hitch for the Nexus name when the estate of Philip K. Dick complained. His daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, started talking to the press about how the Nexus One was obviously a reference to the Nexus 6 line of androids featured in her father’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, later adapted as the movie Blade Runner. She said they were open to discussion, effectively inviting Google to pay a settlement. Google claimed the name had nothing to do with Dick’s work and was being used in its original sense as a place where things converge. It was eventually settled out of court and we don’t know what was agreed.
Google decided to switch from Android pioneer HTC and partner with Samsung for the Nexus S. It ushered in Android 2.3 Gingerbread when it was released in December 2010. It continued the trend towards larger displays with a 4-inch Super AMOLED (there was also a Super Clear LCD version). The unique feature was NFC, and it also boasted 16GB storage (no microSD slot), but the specs weren’t a huge leap over the Nexus One.