How, exactly, would a 'Google phone' fix what Nexus hasn't broken?

At least once a year or so we get rumors about Google "building its own smartphone." That is, one not named Nexus, and presumably one without any sort of branding (and marketing support) from the usual manufacturing suspects.

The Information, citing "people who work at Google," raised the mostly toothless idea back in November 2015. "There is debate and discussion about the topic right now—as there is with myriad ideas at [Alphabet] ... But the fact the issue is on the table at all is noteworthy and shows how Google's Android strategy remains in flux."

Today, we've got another anonymously sourced pieced with the same sort of cliche headline and opening paragraph we typically see on this sort of thing.

From The Telegraph, under "Google to step up smartphone wars with release of own handset":

Google is planning a shake-up of the smartphone market by releasing its own handset, a move that would tighten its grip on mobile software and see it compete directly with the iPhone.

Let's be perfectly clear here — companies are always discussing doing all sorts of things. Some come to fruition. Others don't. If Google never discussed making an unbranded phone without the visible help of an established hardware partner, the folks running that end of things wouldn't be doing their jobs. It's not a very difficult proposition to come up with.

Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X

The Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X are as Google as it gets already.

And The Telegraph ticks all the boxes of a piece trying to make a meal out of something while there's barely any meat on the bone. "Shake-up of the smartphone market?" "Tighten its grip on mobile software?" "Compete directly with the iPhone?"

I don't know what the hell any of that means. The last phone to shake up the smartphone market was the iPhone. It's going to take something truly revolutionary to do it again. And Google simply "making its own phone" likely isn't it.

And how, pray tell, would an unbranded Google phone tighten Google's grip on open-sourced software? Nexus devices (and the Pixel C tablet) are direct targets of Google and the Android Open Source Project. (The software that Google actually ships with those phones is a little different, however, contains code different than what you or I could build for the Nexus phones. Welcome to open-source software.)

And "compete directly with the iPhone?" As opposed to what?

If Google really wants to 'control' Android, it needs to sell more of its phones. Not just give them a different brand.

None of that is to say that Google couldn't do it. Or that it won't. (Though it's our understanding that the Nexus program isn't going anywhere for a couple more years, at least.) But Google "building its own phone" would almost certainly still mean that it contracts with someone like Foxconn (or whitelabels a device from, say, Huawei or LG or HTC) to actually build the thing, as just about any other phone company does. And building a phone is a good bit different from building a tablet.

Nothing in The Telegraph piece gets anywhere close to addressing how a Google-branded phone would be anything beyond an exercise in rebranding. And there's absolutely no proof that simply switching from "Nexus" to "Google" would do anything to steal away marketshare from Samsung, which maintains a huge lead over pretty much everyone.

And Google's own Nexus phones already lead the way on software updates. That's (sadly) telling when some eight months after both the release of Android 6.x Marshmallow and the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, a mere 10% of all current devices (and that's including updated devices as as well as a handful of older Nexus phones) are on the most recent software. There simply aren't that many Nexus phones in the world when you take that sort of context into account. Is a rebranding really going to move that needle any more than a Nexus phone already doesn't move it?

Maybe Google's making some sort of non-Nexus smartphone. Maybe it's not. For sure it's been talked about at some point. And maybe it's all a behind-the-scenes thing, that it'd just be easier to not work with an established manufacturer that has its own hangups and ideas about how to do things.

But you can bet every last byte that if Google does "build its own phone" instead of building its own phone in partnership with an established manufacturer, it's going to be far more than tightening the software grip it already enjoys on the Nexus line.

Phil Nickinson