The future of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Nexus phones appears to be up in the air. On one hand, Android/Chrome chief Sundar Pichai told AllThingsD at D11, "The goal with Nexus was to push forward hardware with partners. That will continue as well." That somewhat vague statement seems to confirm that there will be more Nexus-branded phones in the future.
On the other hand, OEMs don't seem particularly interested in releasing Nexus phones. LG, the current manufacturer of the Nexus 4, has publicly expressed disinterest in building a next-generation model, colloquially known as the Nexus 5. The two other high-profile OEMs that have made Nexus phones in the past, HTC and Samsung, are launching Google Editions of their flagship devices.
The Google Editions of the Galaxy S4 and One are available starting today directly through Google Play. Each device sells unsubsidized for $649 and $599, respectively. That's significantly higher than the $299 starting price of the Nexus 4. Thus marks the next evolution of the "Nexus experience" -- or at least until a Nexus 5 is actually launched, if at all.
Google's vision of the smartphone market entails unsubsidized devices without service contracts, but consumers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the subsidy model. These Google Editions will deliver a stock Android experience, but only to the tiny portion of the market willing to pay full retail price. In addition, there are some trade-offs. The stock Android devices won't take advantage of some of the unique hardware or software features that HTC and Samsung offer.
One of the key benefits of buying directly through Google Play will be direct software updates. Android's biggest weakness is software fragmentation, since OEMs and wireless carriers drag their feet with getting the newest versions of Android on their devices.
With today's release, there are now three stock Android devices available, two of which don't carry Nexus branding. If Google doesn't land an OEM partner for future Nexus devices, these Google Editions may ultimately be the next phase of stock Android.