Google Inc on Thursday unveiled its Nexus 5 smartphone, putting its premium brand on a device intended to champion the latest version of its Android operating system.
The hotly anticipated addition to Google’s Nexus line is powered by the new version of Android named KitKat, which was redesigned to work across the wide range of handsets built with the Internet titan’s free software included.
“Now you have one version of the Android operating system that can ship across all versions of smartphones in 2014,” said Sundar Pichai, head of the Android and Chrome teams, while providing a look at the new software and Nexus 5. “As we get on our way to reach the next billion people, we want to do it with the latest version of Android.”
The move aims to solve the problem that the wide variety of Android systems used around the world make it challenging for makers of fun, functional or hip smartphone or tablet apps to design programs that work on all devices.
Being stuck with old versions of Android also means that users do not get access to upgrades or improvements cranked out by Google.
Apple Inc executives routinely boast about how most users of its iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices are on the latest version of iOS while many Android users are stuck with old versions.
Changes in KitKat included fine tuning it to work with the limited memory capacities of Android smartphones priced for markets in developing countries or other places where buyers are on tight budgets.
“It is important to us to get the same version of Android to scale across all versions of devices,” Pichai said.
Google partnered with South Korean consumer electronics giant LG Electronics Co to make the Nexus 5 smartphone to showcase the prowess of KitKat.
The Nexus 5 was available for purchase in 10 countries through the online store Google Play, priced at US$349 for a 16-gigabyte model and US$399 for a version with 32 gigabytes of memory.
KitKat was released to handset makers to begin building their own smartphones using the software, according to Pichai.
It is up to Android smartphone makers whether to push KitKat updates to people using their devices running on old versions of the operating system.
Google is both a rival and an ally to Android smartphone makers.
While Google has worked with partners to make Nexus brand smartphones for several years, its acquisition of Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc last year has made it a competitor in the handset hardware market.
Leading Android smartphone maker Samsung Electronics Co this week held its first developers conference to encourage creation of apps for its devices, particularly those powered by the South Korean consumer electronics company’s own Tizen software.
“Samsung is very much at odds with Google,” said analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies in Silicon Valley. “Samsung is only going to continue to win if they control their own destiny. If they have to rely on Google, their future is limited.”
Google, Apple and Microsoft Corp each control smartphone hardware and software to lure fans with mobile device “ecosystems” and Samsung likely intends to follow suit, the analyst said.
“Samsung will be in a tough place if they don’t end up controlling the operating system themselves,” Bajarin said. “Right now, they are beholden to Google.”