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May 5, 2014

Google to Finally Cut Down on Android Bloatware with the Silver Series Phones

The days of the popular Nexus series of smartphones appear to be numbered as the sixth and the last handset launched as part of it is nearing its release, though this will not mark the end of Google phones out there.

Nexus 6 was rumored a while ago to be the last device in the lineup, and all returned to the headlines earlier this week, when a report coming from The Information suggested that the Nexus family would be replaced with a new series of smartphones, called Silver. These phones, supposedly set to arrive on the market as soon as the next year, are expected to provide users with exactly the same experience that Nexus and Google Play Edition devices can offer at the moment and to feature high-end hardware capabilities. Basically, it appears that the Mountain View-based Internet giant is transforming the two acclaimed families of smartphones into something new, in an attempt to bring down the Apple iPhone and the increasingly popular Galaxy series from Samsung. However, there's more than that, and the launch of this Silver lineup could actually prove to be Google's effort to cut down on the bloatware that manufacturers currently put on their devices out of the box.

The Nexus series of smartphones has attracted millions to its side over the years courtesy of two main reasons. One of them is the low price that handsets with the Nexus name has featured, and the other is the pure Android experience that they have had to offer. Building on the popularity of these phones, Google then decided to take things a step forward with the launch of Google Play Edition devices, which were nothing else than flagship handsets from various makers stripped down of bloatware. While manufacturers call all of the custom applications and features loaded on top of their handsets unique experiences, many users out there aren't so attracted to these customizations and would rather go without them. 

Phones without bloat applications are preferred.

In fact, a recent report has suggested that most of the applications that Samsung pre-loads on its Android devices are never used, despite the fact that the company is pushing them to all of the phones that can support them. However, even if unused, these apps cannot usually be removed from devices, which means that they will remain there until either the phone or the OS loaded on it gets replaced. The second scenario usually involves rooting the handset and loading a custom ROM on it. Many Android users have already decided to walk this road, and the popularity that software such as CyanogenMod has seen over the years proves it. Such a custom ROM might not be very easy to install, but it will offer an experience similar to that of the stock Android platform, and it might worth the trouble. Soon, the first smartphone in the world to have been designed specifically for the CyanogenMod platform will arrive on shelves in the form of OnePlus One, offering not only a bloat-free experience, but also great performance at a lower price tag.

Basically, this device will be some sort of Nexus that will offer near-stock Android looks and experiences, save for the lack of specific applications that wear Google's signature. Installing them won't be hard, which might turn OnePlus One into a real success at least among enthusiasts. The upcoming Silver series of devices from Google might prove to be very similar to Nexus and Google Play Edition handsets, but it also sounds like a CyanogenMod-based OnePlus One to me. Microsoft's Windows Phone also comes to mind, since it doesn't allow manufacturers to customize it either. The first and foremost idea behind the new lineup is to reduce the amount of custom applications that manufacturers load on their devices, which could significantly alter the actual experience that users receive. More bloat on a smartphone means less internal memory for people to take advantage of, possible performance issues due to continuously running processes, and less freedom for users.

Of all the Android phones I have had the chance to put my hands on over the past five years, those with the stock experience appealed the most to me, although some of the user interfaces that HTC, Samsung or Sony came up with for their devices were somehow impressive as well. In fact, while I have had little to complain about when it comes to the software on my Galaxy Nexus over the past two and a half years, most of my friends on Android have had issues with the custom, non-Google apps present on their phones right from the start. I do believe that offering such applications through the Google Play Store and allowing users to choose on whether they actually want to download and install them – in the event they need the functionality they have to offer – would be a much better approach for handset vendors out there. Moving forth, however, Google is said to plan on significantly restricting the number of apps that can be loaded by makers on new handsets, which will result in a consistent experience across all Android Silver devices. 

High-end specs will help as well.

Moreover, these phones are said to be high-end products, which means that they will indeed be able to take on existing flagship devices out there, including the Apple iPhone, something that the aforementioned OnePlus One might also be capable of doing. The handset comes not only with the software advantage, but it also features top-of-the-line hardware specifications inside and is priced well below flagship models today. It will be half of what it costs when coming out in June. Overall, the Silver series of phones, should it ever come to the market – and judging by the fact that a Nexus 7 smartphone cannot be launched, since a tablet with this name already exists –, it looks like a winner. The Android platform might be at the top at the moment but is showing signs of weakness, perhaps due to the wide variety of devices and experiences, and Google needs to do something about that fast, that's for sure. However, reducing the bloatware on Android devices in the Silver lineup might actually be only the first step that Google will be taking towards increasing its control over the platform.

Said report claimed that the company was looking to include in the family phones that adhered to a specific set of rules, and it would not come as a surprise if these handsets came with minimum hardware specifications as well. Overall, this should prove a great thing for end users, though what remains to be seen is whether Android Silver phones will also be able to compete with their rivals when prices are involved. At the moment, these devices appear to be nothing more than Google Play Edition smartphones in this regard: high-end phones with a stock Android on top but with high price tags. Should the Silver series be indeed meant to replace the Nexus program, it would certainly need to appeal in terms of cost as well. And selling top-rated phones at lower prices has always proved a great thing for business.

Less bloatware coming to Android with Google's Silver series
Image credits to Google


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