Opinion: Is Google Turning The 2016 Nexus Phones Into The New Android Silver?

3 min read

Do the rumors and leaks related to the 2016 Nexus lineup sound like those of some Samsung or LG flagship? The Nexus Launcher leak, rumors of the user interface itself being updated via the Play Store and the possibility of locked-down carrier variants might easily have hinted at something starting with “Galaxy”.


So what does this mean? Looking at the details, you might draw the same conclusion that I did, Google is working on their first Android skin (which I’ll call “NexWiz” for now). This new UI looks to be exclusive to, at the least, Nexus devices, if not only Google’s upcoming Nexus smartphones. It won’t bring any major changes to the overall look, but it’s definitely going to differ enough to where I feel it could be considered a skin over stock Android, as minor as it might be.

Also, according to a leak by prominent Android developer Nate Benis, carriers might be able to SIM-lock their variants. Evidently, they can also disable the “OEM unlock” functionality which would prevent users from unlocking the bootloader on their devices.

Though Verizon has an agreement with the FCC which precludes SIM locking, they can still disable bootloader unlock. AT&T is evidently under no such restrictions, T-Mobile as well. In a Google+ post, Nate referred to the following string apparently extracted from upcoming Nexus firmware:

<stringname="oem_unlock_enable_disabled_summary_sim_locked_device">Unavailable on carrier-locked devices</string>

Has Google lost their minds or are we witnessing the resurrection of Android Silver disguised as carrier-branded Nexus phones? Could 2016 spell the end of the developer-friendly, stock Android Nexus program we’ve become accustomed to? I’m inclined to doubt this rather dark scenario. Before I explain why, I’ll provide some background into Android Silver.

What Is Android Silver?

Android Silver was conceived to put high-end devices with Google’s vision of Android on equal footing with popular OEM flagships. They wanted carriers to promote Android Silver devices as zealously as they do other popular phones with heavy skins. Google would partner with multiple manufacturers to make flagship-level devices with ‘Android as Google intended’ apart from the Nexus program. Google even wanted to provide their own displays within carriers’ brick-and-mortar stores to showcase Android Silver devices to their customers. When it failed to gain traction with manufacturers and the Googler in charge of the project left it was abandoned.

Now it seems Google has managed to bring Android Silver back to life, though on a smaller scale. It’s enough to make you think this redux version of Android Silver has replaced the Nexus in everything but name.

Don’t worry – the traditional Nexus will survive (mostly)

Here’s what I think will happen instead: Google will release “NexWiz”-skinned variants to the carriers to bloat and lock as they please. Key elements of the OS such as the System UI will be updated by Google without carrier interference. Google would be updating these elements via the Play Store rather than pushing entire OS updates. Thus the carriers would be free to push their own bloated updates separately.


Meanwhile, Google will probably release carrier-unlocked bloat-free Nexus variants with either stock Android or “NexWiz” directly through their own Google Store as well as through HTC. Users will be able to unlock their bootloaders and tinker with them as they please, just as with previous Nexus generations. Google knows that developers are key to their ecosystem continuing to have the latest popular apps and content. They also know that a sizable number of customers prefer stock Android with timely updates so I really don’t see them deliberately alienating these groups.

Now that carrier subsidies have given way to monthly installment plans and Nexus phones continue to undercut flagship phones in price, the entry barrier shouldn’t be too high for developers, tinkerers, and stock-Android diehards to buy carrier-unlocked Nexus phones directly from Google or the manufacturer. Meanwhile, Google can promote its vision of Android to the masses through the carrier variants just as they had wanted to with Android Silver.