In my previous article, I used Ubuntu as an example of needing a single star to promote a platform (in this case, Linux). So far, the Nexus One and the Nexus S attempt to do so with Google Android, but still hasn't done it. They had some right ingredients, but missed a few things.
First, it was great that they were unlocked phones and would work on all GSM networks worldwide. They had to make 2 different versions of the same phone so one can work on the AWS 1700MHz 3G band (T-Mobile, Wind, etc), and other on 1900Mhz 3G band (AT&T, Rogers, etc). Either phone should work with 3G overseas (where most 3G bands are on 2100Mhz).
Second, they were Google Experience phones, which means upgrades are available as soon as Google was ready. It was also a good phone for developers to code for, which means it will have the least compatibility issues.
Lastly, the hardware (at least the Nexus One) felt good and used premium materials. The Nexus One felt rock solid. The Nexus S was made by Samsung, and light plastic seem to be in their DNA, so this is where I think they went wrong.
So what prevented the Nexus phones from taking off? Well, for starters, the Nexus One was only sold online. For a lot of people, that's a scary thing. Not being able to have the phone in your hands to try out is probably one of the reasons why it didn't take off. That was one of the real reasons I didn't buy one myself. There wasn't a huge marketing campaign, either. Even the Nexus S isn't being pimped around. The Nexus S does have one thing going for it: you can finally try it out at a Best Buy.
There are other phones out there with excellent hardware specs. Dual cores, Super AMOLED, etc. However, every one of them tries to differentiate themselves by putting on a custom skin. You know what? With so many phone makers trying to hard to make themselves different, a stock Google Experience phone is on itself a great differentiator.
So what is my idea of the Ultimate Google Android phone?
Materials and Design
The hardware must use premium materials. I love the way the iPhone 4 feels, so lets borrow from it. A glass or polycarbonate back, metalic band for the side (doesn't have to be used as an antenna), and a semi-removable battery. The reason why the iPhone feels so solid is because the battery isn't removable, so there is no flimsy door. Lets do one better - lets make the battery removable, but the battery door is the entire back of the device. Apple had the right idea, except they screwed themselves by screwing the back on (now "improved" with pentalobe screws!). This way, the rear will still be a single piece, giving it a more solid slab-like feel. Anything that can't be made with glass, use aluminium or stainless steel.
I would like to eliminate any curves that would making installing protective skins a headache. Right now, the iPhone 4 is one of the best phones for these kind of skins. With the iPhone 3GS, I had to keep coming back to replace the skin as the corners of it comes off. With the iPhone 4, I am still on the same skin that I put on when I first got the phone. The reason? There weren't any difficult curves for the skin to wrap around. The overall look and feel of the device should be minimalistic and feels like a solid slab.
Yes, the iPhone 4 got this down, but it doesn't run Android.
Buttons and Ports
I'd like the home button to be a physical button. This is because it doubles as a power on button, which makes it easier to use in the car (mounted on your dash, of course). I find it harder to have to feel for the small power button at the top. The rest of the buttons (menu, back, and search) will be touch sensitive to keep the device feeling more solid and less flimsy.
Since we are starting to standardize on micro USB for charging and data, I would put it at the bottom center of the phone. To the left of it will be an micro HDMI port for video and audio duties. To the right of it, there will be a new port for control signalling. It will support signals for playback, pause, FF/REW, next/prev, call answer, and more. The spacing between these connectors will always be the same for all future versions of the phone. This will facilitate a standard dock connection to foster accessories that will work with all future devices. Also, this will mean any other manufacture can use this standard spacing so their device will also work with the myriad of accessories and docks. As you can tell, the micro HDMI port will provide a way for video and audio to output from the device. The micro USB will allow for data transfer and charging. The data control port will be for controlling the device using a dock or other various accessories and uses that we haven't thought of yet. The port will be a royalty free standard. The main microphone will be down here as well.
The headphone jack will be at the top left, and will support the same remote signals as the iPhone if it isn't a patented Apple thing. If it is, then we would have to create a standard signal code to do the same thing and open it up for the world to use. Much like the iPhone, a noise canceling mic would be here. Since the bottom of the phone is pretty occupied now, the speaker will be located at the top between the headphone jack and the power button.
I personally don't have a preference for a dedicated camera button, but a lot of people are, so that should be located on the side, near the bottom, so it feels like a traditional camera. It will be dual stage so half press for focus, all the way for shooting. A volume rocker on the left top side as usual.
The sweet spot for screen size seem to be 4". Thanks for finding that out, Samsung! (And why is your Galaxy S 2 phone going towards 4.3" like the way-too-big EVO?). Since Samsung isn't letting anyone use their Super AMOLED part, the next best thing is an IPS LCD display like the iPhone 4. This will give us excellent viewing angles. I'm afraid we may have to stick with the standard 800x400 resolution so we won't have issues with compatibility.
There will be sensors for light and proximity by the ear piece, as usual. The front facing camera will be in the same area. More on the camera later.
Of course, who can go without having both a rear and front facing camera? I'd give it an 8 MP rear camera that can do 1080p 23.976/24/30/60 fps video. Who can forget an LED flash. The front facing camera should have a 1.3 MP sensor.
The Nitty Gritty
The dual core CPU from nVidia's Tegra 2 would be my SoC of choice. It would be a good solid platform for game developers to create games for. 1 GB of memory would be on parity with the Atrix. 32 or 64 GB of onboard storage, depending on physical space constraints and budget. Of course, a micro SD card slot hidden behind the batter door along with your standard SIM card.
The usual sensors such as compass, GPS, accelerometer, and the somewhat new gyroscope will be present. WiFi B/G/N support (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz), and the use of Qualcomm's MDM9600 baseband chip for radio duties.
I mentioned the Qualcomm MDM9600 chip specifically because it allows for CDMA and GSM operation, as well as LTE and HSPA+. This chip does everything, which will allow us to have one phone for all carriers. And yes, it would be an unlocked world phone that works on 3G (HSPA+ as well) and LTE on all carriers.
NFC will be included, and of course, the antenna will be on the battery door.
The Ultimate Google Android phone will have to be a stock build of Android. We can make software updates and complete ROM images available for download from the website support page. Source codewill be available as well, and root can be easily obtained or turned off. If device drivers are prohibited from being posted on the site, we can keep a hands-off approach and encourage someone else to extract them from our image.
For the average Joe, we will include software that will address the limitations of the stock Android build. For example, the stock Camera app was said to only capture at 480p, which is why the Nexus S couldn't do 720p. For enthusiasts who (if they want) a completely stock image for whatever reason, they can just download it off the support site.
There will be a tool for easier flashing and partitioning. The boot loader will be completely unlocked. The hardware will be so open, developers can even try to boot other mobile OSes on it. MeeGo? Why not. Maemo? Sure. Heck, why not Ubuntu like a few people done already on some existing Android phones? And while it may not be legal, what will stop people from porting iOS over?
Of course, all this won't do any good if you don't let the world know it exists. Your average Joe probably won't care about the technical stuff, but this Ultimate phone will have enough marketable bullet points to make it easy to market.
- One phone that works with your carrier of choice on 4G
- nVidia Tegra 2 dual core 1GHz CPU and GPU
- 1 GB of RAM
- Plays demanding 3D games
- 4" IPS LCD at 800x400 resolution
- Noise canceling mic
- 32 or 64 GB of storage
- 8 MP rear camera /w 1080p video
- 1.3 MP front camera
- Near Field Communication
- WiFi B/G/N 2.4GHz & 5GHz
- HDMI audio/video out
Make it available at major retail stores, and maybe some carriers (if they decide they want it in their stores). It can be demoed by customers. Carriers can choose to offer the phone at a subsidized price with a contract, but the Ultimate phone will always be unlocked.
Of course, with a phone like this, it would be on parity with Apple's own iPhone, whcih will probably mean it may cost as much as a factory unlocked iPhone. Ouch, I know. But, it would cost the same as the iPhone when subsidized as well. Given the choice, I'd go with this phone over the iPhone, wouldn't you?