Google unveiled the Nexus S today to wild fanfare and high praise. The TechCrcunch review describes it as "the best phone on the market today". The Telegraph reviewer felt that it represented a huge leap forward in design for Android.
The 'Nexus' series of smartphones is how Google tests out new features and establishes a 'baseline' premium device. When the Nexus One launched it was packed with rare and advanced features that became 'standard' over the rest of the year. The large AMOLED display, 1 GHz processor, noise-cancelling unit- we saw all these things pop up smartphones throughout 2010.
Now and in the future we should look at the yearly Nexus release as word from Google on where they see consumer handset technology evolving. Here's what the Nexus S says about 2011's smartphone market:
1. Contour Displays are In: This little innovation actually feels like it should have come from Apple. We're used to seeing major comfort and style advancements come from Cupertino. Android, which tends to focus more on function than form, usually isn't quite this sexy. Telegraph claims the contoured screen really does help it better fit your face.
AND the weird shape cuts down on glare by 75%. That's according to Google, but the early reviewers all seem to think this new screen is the bee's knees.
I'll be very surprised if contour displays don't take off in a big way this year. This fits in with a general trend towards...
2. Android Getting Hot. I mean this in a couple of ways. The Nexus S is a stylish phone, very different from that bulky war engine the Evo or the chunky, angular Droid. Google has finally gotten the UI smooth enough to stand against iOS...now they are fighting a battle of style with the king of fashionable electronics.
It will be a struggle, but devices like the Nexus S give Google a fighting chance. I think we can expect to see a bevy of slick Android handsets with 'luxury' user features. The contour screen, the noise-cancellation device, the 1.5x brighter display...these are all things that focus on making the tactile and visual user experience more satisfying. We can expect to see Android 3.0 really push that Sexy envelope.
3. MicroSD is out of favor? The most surprising thing about the Nexus S is its lack of expandable storage. There is a healthy 16 GB on-board, but no microSD slot. This is a first for a Google-supported smartphone. The reason is pretty clear. They packed this phone so full of features that something had to be left out. Instead of making the S 'expandable' with an expensive card, they removed the option altogether.
I have mixed feelings here. This feels like something of a step back for Android...but it may just be a nod to practicality. A worthy sacrifice in the name of a more seamless device experience. Will we see this change extend to the rest of the Android line-up?
Don't expect to see microSD disappear from Android devices, but DO expect to see more of them launch with lots of on-board storage and no expansion slot. Google's focus for 2011 seems to be 'give the user what they need, right out of the box'.
4. Near Field Communication. This is one of the rare times that Google has beaten Apple to the punch. The next iPhone is also rumored to have NFC tech. While there isn't much for consumers to do with their NFC readers NOW, I expect that will change before the end of 2011.
We can expect to see NFC technology make it into pretty much every high-end Android device of 2011, especially in the latter half of the year. This is one of those things that is likely to see rapid, exponential expansion once it picks up. All it will take is one phone-generation of connected consumers, and retailers will JUMP on the NFC bandwagon.