The Nexus 4 isn’t the perfect smartphone. The phone has a paucity of storage. The glass back seems like a page ripped out of Apple’s playbook, but for all the wrong reasons. There’s an obvious lack of LTE for a phone that is supposed to be the example of all that Android has to offer.
And yet, despite all its flaws, the Nexus 4 represents the future of the American mobile industry.
BYPASSING THE CARRIERS
If you live in America and want to buy a smartphone, you’re not going to have a great time. US carriers like AT&T and Verizon have perfected a method of deceiving customers into buying into multiple year contracts. AT&T, for example, will offer new smartphones at “competitive” prices, but those prices have yet to factor in the almost mandatory carrier lock-in contract. It’s not unlike the whole razor-razorblade ordeal. Although in this case, you’re stuck with the razorblade for a whole two years with unsatisfactory service and high prices. To buy a phone in America, you have to buy in to a carrier, and that hurts.
Once you do settle down with a carrier, other problems arise. Unless you bought an iPhone, that nice phone you bought on contract will be plastered with carrier logos and bundled with special carrier software that contributes little. If you don’t like your carrier, you’re going to pay an early termination fee (ETF) to end carrier service and your phone will most likely be defunct on other compatible carriers. That’s right: your AT&T phone can work with T-Mobile, and the potential is the same for Verizon and Sprint. Even with the impending standard of LTE, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint have found a way to fragment this universal network technology into something decidedly less collective.
Contrast this with the European (specifically the British) model, where a universal GSM standard allows one “unlocked” phone to be bought for a reasonable price for use on nearly any carrier. Mind you, phones can still be bought on contract with carriers, but there’s a wide availability of unlocked phones for purchase and the British carriers are cooperative enough to work with each other.
UNLOCKING IS KEY
The Nexus 4 is Google’s solution to cleaning up the highly dysfunctional American mobile industry by bringing a little bit of Europe back to the states. No, that doesn’t mean socialist phone contracts. First, the Nexus 4 is a GSM unlocked phone, meaning that it can be used on any GSM carrier like AT&T, T-Mobile, and the like. Second, the Nexus 4 is outrageously cheap. While comparable unlocked phones run for prices of $500 and above, the Nexus 4 is a paltry $300. There’s no skimping on features here, either: the Nexus 4 meets nearly all of the necessary standards for a modern smartphone: a great camera, a functional OS, and an attractive (if not flawed) design. How Google and LG can afford to sell the phone this low without carrier subsidies is beyond me, but it has worked, tremendously.
Google’s no stranger to selling unlocked phones before, and previous Nexus phone efforts like the Nexus One was sold from Google for a high asking price and it went largely unnoticed. In the previous summer, Google tried again in selling a Galaxy Nexus unlocked for $350. This time, an unlocked phone with a low price was a hit.
Google is selling the Nexus 4 straight from their Google Play online store, and while the entire shipping process has been largely an uncommunicative failure, sales have been far from it. Demand has far exceeded supply, and LG is struggling to keep up with this unexpected runaway success. Without a doubt, this is a good phone for a really, really, really cheap price. Make no mistake: consumers want this phone and are buying, without any carrier intervention or deceptive pricing. If all sales indications are correct, the Nexus 4 could be the first unlocked phone that turns the tide against the carriers.
Phone contracts won’t disappear overnight, and carrier bloatware will continue to exist. The status quo of selling diluted phones and interminable contracts that no one asked for. But Google isn’t just selling an unlocked phone anymore. Now, Google is selling the future of the industry.