Google announced on Wednesday that it would be offering customers a version of Samsung's new Galaxy S4 (GS4) that has been stripped of Samsung's layered-on-top interface and other added software. At Google I/O 2013, the company's annual developer conference, Google said that it was "Google's take on Android"*, and that it would sell the device for US$649 direct to consumers.
Samsung announced the GS4 at a bizarre media event in March. The successor to the very popular Galaxy S3, the GS4 offers users a 1080p display (1920 x 1080) in a 4.5-inch display. The device also comes with Samsung's TouchWiz interface, a collection of software enhancements—many of which are redundant to stock Android—that sit on top of Android.
The Google version of the device will come without that stuff, offering users stock Jelly Bean (Android 4.2) instead. Considering the fact that Jelly Bean is an impressive OS and the reality that Samsung has delusions of being able to offer a complete platform ecosystem, this is a Good Thing™ for Android fans.
“It’s Google’s take on Android, and it feels really awesome on the Galaxy S4,” Hugo Barra, vice president for product management at Android, said during the Google I/O keynote.
Samsung's me-too software services have mostly been greeted with a big "meh," while its own genuine innovations like touchless answering, eye-tracking controls, and other gesture-based features have been met with some criticism. The Google edition of the device is aimed at Android users who are interested in such issues.
That awesomeness does come at a price, $649 to be exact, but that's for an unlocked device that works on AT&T and T-Mobile. Google will be selling it on its online store starting June 26th, 2013.
Many of Google's Android licensees like to pile their own crapware on top of Android. Or in addition to Android. Or somewhere on the Android device. Google has tried to battle this by offering devices it develops in conjunction with OEMs that it sells under its own Google Nexus brand.
Those devices have had very limited success, in part because users must pay full retail price for them—they weren't able to get them subsidized through carriers in the U.S. In addition, they've always been sold directly by Google, which resulted in the echo chamber of plugged-in geeks knowing about them, and no one else.
Google's GS4 will still be sold directly at an un-subsidized price, but this is the first time that Google has tried to offer a stock Android device without the Nexus branding. Samsung's Galaxy SX product line is the single most successful smartphone on the planet after the iPhone, and that could allow Google to move more GS4s than it has Nexii.
This would have many benefits for Google. For one thing, it could give Google more ammunition when trying to get its licensees to offer stock Android devices.
That's important, because when Samsung Galaxy S4 users fire up S Voice (Samsung's Siri wannabe) instead of Google's own voice control feature, Google isn't getting that user data for its profiles. The same goes with other redundant features piled on the Samsung GS4 and other Android devices.
Never forget that getting user data is the raison d'être of Android. That makes this an important experiment for Google, and we suspect that it will prove to be the most successful stock Android device to-date.
*And that is simply hysterical. We offer props to Google for being able to crack that joke.