Google I/O wasn’t short on new software announcements, from a Spotify-baiting music service to an updated version of Hangouts that’s bound to leave WhatsApp, BBM and iMessage in the shade.
But it’s Google’s move to release a so-called ‘de-Samsunged’ version of the Korean giant’s Galaxy S4 that’s most intriguing.
The approach is simple - offer what is bound to be this year’s best-selling Android device with a stock version of Google’s operating system.
No Samsung apps (or bloatware if you’re feeling less charitable), just the blistering hardware that’s been well-received by critics.
Unlocked and offered SIM-free via Google Play, this is a phone that many hardcore fans will be happy to get on board with. The question is, why take this road? For starters, it buys Google time to update its Nexus range properly.
This is essentially a Nexus phone we’re talking about, in the same way Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus was.
In unleashing this version now, Google can offer punters a 4G-packing, up-to-date Nexus handset while it works with LG on the next official version of its flagship handset.
While Samsung will have doubtless been on board with this, it’s also, more importantly, a chance to show that the best Android phones simply don’t need proprietary software.
Samsung didn’t mention Android when it launched the S4 in New York back in March.
The phone-maker is already hard at work making its own Tizen OS look ship-shape in order to take on Android and build on its own massive brand awareness.
But this move shows that Google still believes in putting its latest software onto the best handsets, regardless of the manufacturer. That’s not to say this model will sell as well as the standard Galaxy S4.
Phone shops will ensure that users get the normal model in huge quantities, while this is merely a chance to prove a point and give hardcore fans the chance to experience a quality device with Android as it’s meant to be.
There are, of course, issues. At $649 Stateside, it’s far pricier than the non-4G Nexus 4.
Does anyone really want to pay that premium to access super fast networks? It’s a big ask.
That price point also suggests that Google will be looking to boost the base cost of the Nexus 4G or 5 when it launches.
That may put some punters off and push them back towards signing up for lengthy contracts in order to snag a bleeding edge smartphone.
Either way, this version of the S4 should act as a marker for Samsung.
It’s hard to take on and beat Google at the software game. If this phone sells well, expect Sammy to step back from its game of Android brinkmanship.