Google already has a line of Nexus devices to fight the iPhone, so why does it need a "Google Phone"? Because most people aren't buying Nexus phones. According to a new report, the company is in talks with carriers abut releasing a Google-branded handset by the end of the year.
According to The Telegraph, this move would allow the company to exert more control over its software and more prominently highlight services like Google Search and the Google Play app store. But Google is already doing that with Nexus phones. A Google phone would go even further.
One of the reasons why the iPhone continues to beat Samsung, LG, HTC, Nexus devices in the premium smartphone world is because Apple controls both the hardware and the software. So, if Apple wants to roll out features like Apple Pay, Live Photos or a 3D Touch display, it can implement them and ensure that the experience works the way it should. Apple then works with partners--whether it be retailers, photo sharing services or developers--to accelerate adoption.
Google has been too reliant on its partners on the front end to ensure that its own software innovations are being properly implemented and highlighted, such as the clever Google Now on Tap. With Android N on the way, which will finally offer split-screen multitasking, a smart chat bot in the Allo messaging app and enhanced virtual reality support, Google can't afford to solely rely on Nexus devices to trumpet these benefits.
Google has already said that it is working on its own Daydream virtual reality headset, so it stands to reason that it will have a phone to go with it.
The other important thing about The Telegraph's report is that Google is in discussions with mobile operators about a Google-branded phone. The vast majority of Americans still buy their handsets from carriers, and a Google phone is simply more powerful branding than just another unlocked Nexus in the eyes of shoppers.
This doesn't mean that Nexus phones will necessarily go away. In fact, within the last few days rumors surfaced that the HTC Nexus phone for 2016 will sport the latest Snapgragon 821 processor and possibly a pressure-sensitive display like the one on the iPhone 6s.
At the beginning of June, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that his company would 'be more opinionated about the design of the phones" in an effort to "push the devices forward."
Lets not forget that Google is also working on a modular, upgradeable smartphone for 2017 in Project Ara, which will let you swap in various components to gain additional functionality. It's likely that the newly installed head of hardware, Rick Osterloh, will help bring that vision to market.
Perhaps what's really on tap for this year is a Nexus phone that goes further than previous devices in terms of hardware and software integration, which is exactly what Pichai promised, but under the Google name. You just might not see the Nexus branding or partner branding at all--just Google. And at a time when many expect the iPhone 7 to be a ho-hum upgrade, this could be exactly what Google needs to make a big leap forward.
There's added incentive for Google to create its own phone. Samsung has been dabbling in Tizen OS devices, and now Huawei is reportedly working on its own OS as a plan B, in case Android ceases to be as open as it has in the past for customization. So a Google phone could be as much of a defensive play as it as an offensive one.