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The big question: Does Google really know how to make an Android device better than anyone else?

So far the Nexus series has been a bit of a flop

The Wall Street Journal today reports that Google is planning to release a slew of Nexus-branded devices from a host of different manufacturers.

Google plans to give multiple mobile-device makers early access to new releases of Android and to sell those devices directly to consumers, said people familiar with the matter. That is a shift from Google’s previous practice, when it joined with with only one hardware maker at a time to produce “lead devices,” before releasing the software to other device makers. Those lead devices were then sold to consumers through wireless carriers or retailers.

The expansion of direct sales marks a bid to exert more control over key features and apps that run on Android-powered phones and tablets, thus reducing the influence of wireless carriers over such devices, these people said. Wireless carriers typically handle marketing and sales of devices and thus can exert some control over the services that run on them.

In theory, this move has a lot of good things going for it.  Most importantly it could drastically cut down on the level of fragmentation that we see on new Android devices since all these devices would presumably get the same OS software updates at the same time.  What's more, Google exerting more quality control over Android-based devices and apps should be a good thing since the Android ecosystem is a wee bit like the wild west right now: Sure it's exciting but it's also potentially deadly if you malware-infected apps that have been stalking around the Android app market.

There is some potential downside here, however.  The biggest one is that Google has yet to really create a smartphone under its Nexus brand that has captured the public imagination.  All of the sucessful Android phones -- think the Motorola Droid series, the Samsung Galaxy series, the HTC Evo series -- have all been hits without any input from Google.  In fact, one of the best things about Android has been that it has allowed manufacturers to get creative and experiment with how each of their devices delivers Android to users.  There have certainly been some missteps along the way -- Motorola's truly horrible MotoBlur interface comes to mind -- but manufacturers have generally been pretty quick on their toes when it comes to figuring out what works and what doesn't.  And there's a simple reason for this: they have to be.  Since Android is a (nearly) free-to-use mobile OS, it's created a truly competitive market for device manufacturers and has allowed once-little-known device manufacturers such as HTC to become real players in the industry.

So I guess the devil is all in the details here.  While some more direction from Google to Android manufacturers is a welcome development, I hope the company will still let them make tweeks and changes to put their own unique stamps on their own Nexus smartphones and tablets.  Because let's face it: With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, most of Google's own smartphones have been decidedly "meh" so far.

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