There's quite a bit of schadenfreude ricochetting through the Apple community (and grumbling in the Android camp) today after Google's latest phone, the Nexus 4, was announced without support for fast LTE 4G networking. That's because the iPhone 5 has support not only for LTE, but for international LTE, all wrapped up in an incredible thin, decently long-lifed package. And Android certainly is no stranger to LTE. If Apple can add it for its flagship phone, and many an Android manufacturer has LTE (like, all of them), why can't Google? It's actually more a matter of "won't," not "can't." Simply put, the Nexus 4 isn't, was never intended to be, and could never be a flagship phone.
Arguably no Nexus phone has been a "flagship" since the first one, the HTC Nexus One. The Nexus One was an Android phone from the future, with features we wouldn't see in the rest of the line, much less other platforms, for months to come. It was aspirational, as compelling in hardware as software. And Google couldn't sell it. Not to customers via its web store, and not to carriers, which already had to deal with an uncontrollable Apple and weren't about to let Google secure that kind of power.
So, instead of a Nexus Two, Google teamed with Samsung to ship the Nexus S. It wasn't an Android phone from the future by any stretch of the imagination, it was a summation of what had gone on with Android the year before. It still satisfied the demands of geeks and developers for an unlocked phone with the latest, greatest version of the Android software, but it did so safely, leaving plenty of room at the top of the hardware food chain for the next generation of carrier and manufacturer phones.
The also-by-Samsung Galaxy Nexus did likewise. It had the very best and most up-to-date version of Android software, but Its camera sucked, a GSM/LTE version never shipped, and it compromised the very nature of Nexus to get on Verizon.
The point of Nexus, at least to me, at least originally, was Android as Google intended, not only free from carrier and manufacturer shenanigans, but showing those ne'er-do-wells a better, brighter path forward. And the carriers and manufacturers killed it for that very reason.
I don't think there's an Android geek on the planet who wouldn't have rather had a fantastic camera in the Galaxy Nexus, along with every other cutting-edge bell and whistle imaginable, even if it drove up the price to something comparable with flagship phones. I don't think there's anyone reading a Mobile Nations site who wouldn't prefer a Nexus 4 with LTE. Conversely, any developer in charge of a test bed with 37 existing Android phones on it probably prays every night the next one is as cheap and dirty as possible, just to keep costs down and their business in business.
If you're walking into an Apple Store, carrier store, or electronics retailer with your eyes set on an iPhone 5, the Nexus 4 isn't meant to be on your radar. The Nexus 4 isn't aimed at the masses and isn't intended to sell in the tens of millions. It isn't allowed to be, not in scope or in strategy, much as Google might wish it. The Nexus 4, in the current incarnation of the Google Play Store, is aimed at geeks and developers as a non-flagship phone that does its best to meet both their diverging needs, while leaving plenty of room at the top for their carrier and manufacturing partners that do intend to compete with the iPhone 5.
If anyone is looking for an alternative to Apple, for an Android flagship phone with LTE and all sorts of other amenities, Samsung, HTC, LG, and their ilk will more than happily sell them, and everyone else one, by the millions, or tens of millions.
That's what the Samsung Galaxy S 3 and HTC One X and other, carrier flagships are for.
It's not, nor was it ever intended to be, what the Nexus 4 is for.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.