Why Apple probably isn't worried about the Nexus S

iPhone 4 vs Nexus S

I was wrong when I wrote last week that Google's Nexus line of Android phones were brilliant examples of counter-programming the iPhone. I still believe that of the Nexus One but not of the Nexus S.

I bought a Nexus One when it was made available with AT&T/Rogers-friendly 3G bands and was fairly certain I would be getting a Nexus 2 when it came out. But it didn't. The Nexus S came out instead and while I joked the S was 2 written backwards I now believe they deliberately didn't use the 2 and I think I know why.

The Nexus One was an aspirational device from Google that lead the way to a new generation of Android phones through much of 2010. Nexus S is more of a summation device, capping off the current generation of phones that ended 2010. Both are aimed at developers and technologists but one showed where Android was going and the other where it is.

Nexus One was the darling of CES 2010. Nexus S is loved by some bloggers but already boring others. When the Nexus One came out there weren't really any other Android phones, or arguably any phones, to compete with either its specs or its software, including its great screen and system-wide voice integration. When the Nexus S came out it was the 6th or 7th Galaxy S device in the last couple months with some unrealized near-field communications thrown in the mix. And frankly, I still prefer the look and feel of my Nexus One to the decidedly Hasbro aesthetic Samsung just won't let go of.

Where's the 720p display? Where's the pentaband radio so it can work on more than just T-Mobile 3G? Where's the inductive charging, facial recognition, Google Voice-as-VoIP, or any other iPhone 4-killer feature? They even took out the 720p video recording, which Apple added to iPhone back in June. Sure the Galaxy S has Android 2.3 Gingerbread and will always get the newest updates first, but the same is true of the Nexus One, right?

Maybe it's not the Nexus 2 because Samsung didn't want to be Number 2 (insert Austin Powers joke), or maybe it's not that next-generation, aspirational follow up device and Google didn't want to raise that expectation, even though most of us probably heard the Nexus brand and immediately raised our own expectations. When Nexus One came out it prompted all sorts of rumors about Apple feeling the pressure and Steve Jobs promising iOS 4 and iPhone 4 would take it to Google with next release. I don't think Apple is sweating in the least over the Nexus S, and I'm not happy about that.

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Why Apple probably isn't worried about the Nexus S


I don't see why they would since the Nexus is just a developer phone. Thwy should be more worried over the consumer phones from HTC or samsung, and those with features Apple will neglect till iPhone 5 or iPhone 6

Galaxy S does not have Gingerbread, in fact most Galaxy S owners in the US don't even have Froyo. It's not clear at the point that the Galaxy S phones will ever see Gingerbread, let alone Honeycomb.
But then, what does the Galaxy S have to do with any of this anyway? And why would you think a developer phone was made for anything but... Developing?

I'm looking at the back of my Captivate now and it says Galaxy S. No S branding indeed...I agree with the general sentiment of this post, and what Chris Gonzales said.

Apple is not sweating the S because that is not Google's aim. The S is a curved rebranding of an existing Samsung device, with the SD card (and 720p vid capture) removed, and replaced by a NFC chip. Why would Google release such an otherwise humdrum phone to developers? That NFC chip.
Many people believe NFC will spark a new wave in mobile transactions and communications; it is no secret that Apple is looking at this as well. Rather than let Apple overwhelm the market/mindshare when they announce NFC in iPhone 5, Google is giving developers an NFC-capable phone and APIs well in advance to establish Android as NFC-capable in developers minds, and get merchants and services thinking Android first as they create NFC apps, just because Android will be the only dev kit game in town, as the iPhone's release schedule prohibits it from getting into the game as big, as early. In the best case, it will spark some creative Andoid exclusive NFC apps as well. Will this approach work? No idea - but this is why the S appears humdrum to Rene, as a savvy end user; it is not intended to attract you, but to inspire developers to inspire you eight months from now.

They can't make updates for the nexus one forever, this phone will see honeycomb and more within the first or second quarter. This is a developers phone and all that's missing will come down the line in the form of updates.

Why Apple Probably Isn't Worried About The Nexus S: because they are Apple, and as much as other phones have tried, they will never make a better touchscreen phone than the iPhone. Of course this is debatable, but sales numbers and the fact that a lot of tech websites devote a good chunk of their attention towards even a RUMOR of a new iPhone do not lie.

NFC? Isn't that the thing where they want your phone to act like a credit card? No way am I signing up for that. I already don't store any personal info on my phone, and on a platform as insecure as Android? Good luck with that. If the Nexus S is supposed to be a developer phone, it's pretty weak sauce.

One thing I love about apple and HATED about blackberry is how uniform the updates are for iPhone while updates for blackberry were all over the place . You really needed to be a whiz to know to upgrade your OS when your carrier didn't even upgrade to it ( luckily I am a whiz) android looks like it suffers from the same problem but even worse as it's not only carrier dependent but also phone dependent . This is the reason I wonder if I will ever switch to an android over an iPhone

this doesn't need it's own post. it's obvious. apple doesn't need to worry about a single phone they need to worry about android as a platform in general. either way it's not going to spell the end for apple as they make good products, have good management and relatively loyal customers.

NFC = Near Field Communications - basically, a discoverable short range (purportedly) secure wireless communication. If you are a tollway driver, think of those devices that automatically pay your toll as you drive past the booth. Transactions are not the only use for this, but they are the use case that had most analysts (and phone manufacturers, including Apple) most excited. It will be on your next iPhone for sure, though you undoubtedly will be able to disable it.

Apple was never worried about Android , maybe 3.0 will make Apple worried.
I do think that the "S" is for Samsung, this is my theory Samsung came to Google and said I want to make a Nexus phone Google said sure Samsung used their new screen technology, Samsung wanted to call it Nexus 2 Google said NO for two reasons one this not an "2" upgrade and second also put in NFC chip in, Samsung but we can't no room Google make room, Samsung guess we can take out the micro SD card , but what do we call it if not Nexus 2 , Google maybe you can use that "S" thing STOP bothering me (Google thinking if they call it "S" then can have an Nexus "LG" or "SE" also who cares we making this top secret Motorola DROID 4G LTE Table with Motorola and VZW)
The only people who contribute to Android in my opinion is HTC after Google of crocus Motorola is is used by VZW and Somewhat Google too, but none of the other manufacture add anything to the next update of Android it is all Google and HTC , the new sense has online services that is coming to "pure" android sense 1.5 had a multi touch keyboard and muti touch browser then android has it latter. HTC is one of the only ones who makes good hardware , unlike Samsung that make an 4 inch iPhone 3Gs with android 2.3 and a A8 or what ever witch is the same thing as Apple's A4. One more thing if you do not want tot get an Nexus Phone then the only way that you are to be almost granted to get an OS update go with HTC because they would actually update the phone because they work with Google. First none Nexus phone to get 2.2 was the HTC EVO 4G (Sprint phone) I am going to predict that HTC is going to update and or release an new phone with 2.3 before Samsung gets 2.3 on any of their phones not including the Nexus S because that is Google's phone. I would even say maybe two including the G2 because that is almost Stock Android.
But that is just what I think.

"Dude the evo alone smokes the iPhone 4."
Pretty much every Android phone smokes the iPhone 4 these days. The first three iPhones had something over the competition, the 4th iPhone could only catch up to the Nexus One and the 5th iPhone will not even catch up I'm afraid.

@ (Copy of) Dev - re: NFC: " It will be on your next iPhone for sure, though you undoubtedly will be able to disable it."
And the NFC chip on the iPhone won't just be naked hardware like on Nexus S. Apple doesn't throw hardware features at 3rd party developers in the hope that they'll do something with it. They work on the hardware and software that uses it, then release the hardware and software as a complete feature.
FaceTime, for example. Yes, some Android phones had hardware for video calls before iPhone 4. No, Google didn't even bother to get video calling to work. Now Nexus S has NFC before iPhone 5, but again it's a half-baked attempt to beat Apple to market with something. Anything. Just so they can say they did.

The Nexus S isn't intended to outsell the iPhone. Neither is any individual Android phone. The strength of Android is in the variety of many handset choices. There is no one handset that Apple is worried about, nor should they be. Apple should be worried about Android as a whole. Android is a threat in a way Blackberry, WebOS, and even Windows Phone never could be.

@ drphysx and @ Flip - "Dude the evo alone smokes the iPhone 4.”
Just more proof that hardware is the easy part. Any decent hardware manufacturer can out-spec a 6-month or 11-month old iPhone with some generic Android handset. And will that minuscule hardware advantage give anyone a better experience? Nope.
And that's one of the fatal flaws in the Android strategy. Android handset makers are on the same race to the bottom as the pee cee hardware makers. They're all on the edge of the low-margin cliff, trying to push the other guy off first. They're not competing against Apple or Microsoft. They're trying to kill each other off first. Good luck with that.
Oh, and the real fatal flaw in Android is their bogus Dalvik JVM. Oracle's lawsuit has merit (cut and dried violation of the Java license agreement), there is legal precedent (Sun successfully sued Microsoft for $20 million for a similar violation), and Larry Ellison won't settle out-of-court for money. The lawsuit requires all copies of Android to be "impounded and destroyed." That explains why Google is falling all over themselves to rush Chrome OS devices to market.

I really hope Motorola's Defy which is waterproof and quite durable in general will lead many oter brands - and some years later maybe even Apple - to making waterproof phones themselves..

Messed with a Sammy galaxy tab yesterday at best buy looking for something smaller than my iPad. I couldn't get over how laggy the web browsing experience was on it. I love refinement. And Andriod just isn't there yet. Some people love it. But I won't even consider it until they fix that. Its horrible.

@Flip & @drphysx, I have the pleasure of owing the EVO, iPhone 4 and BB Torch. I can tell you this, not one of them "smokes" the other. They each have things that they do better than the other and they each have things that they do not do well. Get real, there is no one best phone for everyone.

Is Steve worried? Like others have stated, not about one Android phone, but about the armada of Android phones covering the full spectrum of smartphones and now displacing the feature phone market. Just look at how much both Steve and Apple enthusiast sites talk about Android, compared to how much Android sites and Eric Schmidt talks about Apple.The fruits are scared.
As far as the Dalvik stuff goes, it will be tossed or settled for cash. Thats just the way these issues play out in case you hadn't noticed. To think that anyone would or could order Android phones impounded and destroyed is pure foolishness. Years down the road when this is settled, Android will be so dominant that any type of punitive ruling outside of cash would be completely out of the question. Seriously, it already is and everyone knows that besides you.

1) The Sun-MS case is nothing like the Oracle-Google one. Microsoft took Java, modified some core java.* libraries, and still tried to call the result Java. That is why MS was sued, and that is why they lost. Google has a) never signed a java license agreement for Android, and b) never attempted to equate Davlik with Java, so they are completely in the clear on your accusations. (The rest of the legal quagmire is far too long of a post for a tangential comment.)
2) Interesting you bring up FaceTime, as I think that is part of the reason Google placed a half-baked NFC solution in a developer phone. Apple, when they release an NFC-capable iPhone5 (or iPhone6), will make a huge splash in the market. Their implementation will be tight, and their marketing will be ubiquitous. Other phones had VideoChat before Facetime, but the average user now equates VideoChat with FaceTime. Apple may not have created the technology, but they de facto control the market, at least in terms of consumer mindshare. Google desperately wants to avoid that situation with NFC, and, since they lack the ability to make a single big splash like Apple can, the best arrow in their quiver is to get it out there before Apple, and encourage somebody else to make a few market-defining applications using Android, before Apple jumps in and defines the market for them. Google is not throwing it out there "just to say they did" -- Google is putting it on a developer phone in the hopes NFC will evolve just ahead enough of Apple's schedule that when Apple jumps in with their (no doubt good) implementation, the resultant big splash will not be able to push Android to the sidelines.
Google is not throwing it out there "just to say they did" -- they are doing it as a pre-emptive strike. Google knows Apple will step in with a quality implementation, and make a huge splash.

Rene perhaps I'm a bit off, but I don't see why Apple should be worried by ANY of the hardware that is coming out. They pushed the bar pretty high with iPhone 4 - it's an excellent device hardware wise (despite some shortcomings, like the antennas and so forth).
What Apple should be worried about is the speed that Google iterates the operating system. I think that smart phone are becoming less and less about hardware with each iteration - they all have front facing cameras now, they all have great battery life, the touch screens are getting better, etc.
To my mind the difference all comes down to the operating system. Apple is going to have to win hearts and minds with the next major iteration of iOS because the competition has really caught up. Save UI consistency, where Apple is ahead, they're fast falling behind in features and, more importantly, implementation of those features.
The notification system on the iPhone is the worst of any smart phone - bar none. It's a deal-breaker for many, and as BB becomes more competitive in the market, and Palm reestablishes itself, Apple's notable shortcoming in this area will become painfully apparent. Similarly, the lack of widgets (for better or worse) is probably going to be seen as largely a determent to the overall user experience.
Simplicity is good, but there is a point where it starts to hurt you. The features that are available to jailbroken devices makes it painfully apparent how iOS is starting to fall behind. Apple is really going to have to step it up. The Android OS is but one of many competitors in the market; Apple really can't afford to lag behind the pack (especially given its slow pace of iteration).

I've heard a lot of people say "android isn't there yet" and I'd have to agree to some degree. If they would just polish and refine their shizz I might consider leaving Apple because I like a lot of features an Android phone can do right out of the box that an unjailbroken iPhone can't. Toss my azz some refinement on Android and I'd be there.

Everyone I know who has a good Android phone wants to switch to the iPhone when it comes to their carrier. I like the incredible, but the touch screen of the iphone 4 is still the best. None of the Android phones can beat it still, never as responsive or smooth. The scrolling on Android is so choppy compared to ios, it's sad.

Yeah, since Apple makes the software and the hardware they really don't need to worry about Android. But if they really want to dominate, they'll become their own carrier. If anything, that's where the iPhone in the US has lacked. Imagine Apple having a 4G capable, data (VoIP) only iPhone, on their own infrastructure... with unlimited data at 60-70USD a month. That's where the future is, and where Apple should be first to go.

ive been thinking the same thing. expecially after hearing how much money apple has stockpiled...and after hearing they are holding off and saving to make a large acquisition later down the road.
i think at some point apple will want to be its own carrier and either purchase a company or start its own.
but at the end of the day what the hell do we really know?

@Francolasalsa- The updates (as stupid as this may sound) is the reason I left my Samsung Captivate and went back to iPhone and got an iPhone 4. Android is ridiculously fragmented and it makes you feel like your phone is outdated nearly instantly since you don't have the latest OS update, and Samsung sucks at putting out updates. With Apple your iPhone isn't outdated for a long time. You are guaranteed updates for 2 years and if you get the latest iPhone it's not gonna be discontinued soon either. No not all iOS updates are feature packed but me being a techie person knowing my phone isn't updated to the latest and greatest drives me insane and annoys me.

Am struck with Xperia X10, had updated it to Android 2.1, but that's not impressive, at least a slice of Gingerbread would had helped a lot...... 2.1 is so dumb!

@drew. What you told about the feeling to have an outdated android few month later isn't true! I've got my HTC desire since it have been sell in France and each time they upgrade android it s like you ve got a new one.
And obviously if you take the cheapest android phone do not expect to have the latest update.
And finally nexus S is a develeppor phone with new technogie include :) and for the screen it you look 5min on the web you ll find out that a brand in Japan is selling android phone with a screen resolution better than the retina ;)

I totally agree with you on the looks comment. I loved the look of the Nexus One, and would get one again over a Nexus 2. I for the life of me DON'T no why they let Samsung build this device.