Why Google made such a big-ass phone with the Nexus 6

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Credit: Google

Despite the numerous rumors that told us the next Nexus phone would be a big huge phablet, we were still taken aback when Google officially pulled the curtain off of the Nexus 6. It’s a damn big phone. Its 6-inch display is even bigger than the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Note 4

What is Google thinking? Is this Google’s way of jumping on the trend for ever-larger phones? Big phones are more popular than ever, but very few have 6-inch display. That's almost tablet territory! What's going on here?

A niche you can’t ignore

If you figured that Google thought to make a huge Nexus 6 to join in with the rest of the industry trends, you’re not too far off. The mobile market is gearing itself to appeal to those with bigger hands, so to speak. “Google and Motorola sized itself away from the general market toward a very specific segment of the market,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Manager at IDC. But it’s not just geared toward those with larger palms—consumers are really just clamoring for a better alternative to carrying around so many devices on their person. “If you’re that person who wants to have the all in one tablet and smartphone, this is for you too,” added Llamas.

nexus9 hand Google

The Nexus 6 might be too big for some hands, but many are interested in the utility of a phone that lets them leave their tablet at home.

It’s also important that Google has a device in this category so that its developers will make applications that can scale to those bigger screen sizes. “They consider this category important, so they just want to have this device be their version of what a phablet could be,” said Daniel Matte, an analyst for Canalys. Google’s goal isn’t to sell a ton of units—the Nexus program never really was about selling lots of devices—it’s about pushing the Android platform to work well with other types of niche technology, too. 

It’s also an opportunity for Google to brand itself and refute the idea that the phablet niche is something that only its partners can offer. “If you don’t supply those things, somebody else will,” added Llamas.

A ploy for more business users

A bigger device may also help Google appeal to the more business-centric crowd, as Samsung’s successfully done with its Galaxy Note series.

Google’s been shooting for the enterprise crowd for some time, and with Android Lollipop equipped with better security features and multi-user support, that bigger screen size will at least make it easier to multitask. “They are pushing hard from an app perspective if you’re looking at what they’re doing with Google Drive and the cloud,” said Carolina Milanesi, Chief of Research and Head of Kantar Worldpanel. “But from an Android perspective we haven’t yet noticed very much about the enterprise.” Thus, this is Google’s subtle way of telling developers: go ahead and make those killer business apps.

$649 is the right price

The unlocked price for the Nexus 6 is pretty steep, and a far cry from the mid-range price points of the previous few Nexus devices. But it’s par for the course in an industry dominated by high-end, high-priced devices. “If you’re taking a look at the iPhone 6 and some of the Samsung and LG devices, we’re in the same kind of stratosphere,” said Llamas. It’s expected that the Nexus 6 would cost this much, because of its remarkable specifications, and at least it’s available at all major US carriers so developers and consumers alike won’t be doling out that much for it if they’re due for an upgrade. “If you dial it down and look at the opportunity here for subsidy, it could end up being $200 on a two-year contract.”

The high price point will also ensure that Google doesn’t unfairly compete with its manufacturing partners. “They do have an exceptional burden of having been [cheaper],” said Matte. “They don’t want to compete too directly. They want to find a segment, and to provide the experience for those segments without offending the OEMs.” 

Nexus is still for purists

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Pure, unadulterated Android.

Despite the fact that Google is making the Nexus 6 more broadly available from carriers this time around, it’s still a niche phone that’s meant to satiate those who want the purest Android. “I don’t think Nexus is for everybody,” said Ilamas. “I don’t think it’s set up to be that way either.” It is also vitally important that Google continues to court developers with a strong hardware ecosystem—phablets included.

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