A report today is saying that Google wants to become more like Apple in its Nexus lineup of phones and tablets – that is to say it wants more control over the marketing and building of its products. But can Google build up its hardware engineering at the same time without alienating its hardware/carrier partners and even Apple? …

The Information‘s Amir Efrati states that Google wants greater control over its flagship phone program. Nexus devices, Google has always stated, are simply showcase devices that enable the latest Google innovations and are not meant to gain any market share. If what Efrati says is true, Google would really start going after marketshare with these devices and compete not only with Apple’s iPhone and iPad but also Samsung and the device makers themselves. Efrati notes:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai and his lieutenants have signaled to colleagues and outsiders that the company wants to take greater control over its program for making “Nexus” smartphones, which are powered by Google’s Android software. The change would effectively reduce the level of involvement of hardware partners that make the phones with Google, a group which has included Samsung, Motorola, LG and Huawei (you could add HTC].

The move would be the latest step by Google to make Nexus phones more like the iPhone, which is controlled by Apple top to bottom, and strengthen Android’s brand overall in order to capture more share at the high end of the market that Apple dominates. Google doesn’t want its revenue-generating services for high-end smartphones to be at the mercy of Apple like they are now.

The rest of the story is behind a paywall but the vague point seems to be 2 parts:

  1. Hardware manufacturing: Google wants to do its own hardware designs or at least have control over the designs. Up until now, LG/Huawei and others have sent their own engineers over to Google and tailored an existing phone to Google’s needs. Under the new model, to be more like Apple would turn these manufacturers into Google’s Foxconn. Google would design the devices, send the specs over to the manufacturers who would then build the phone or tablet and leave only Google branding on the devices. Google has shown it has *some* hardware chops with the Pixel lineup, and it would seem that is the model Efrati is imagining.
  2. Marketing.  As past Nexus partners, LG and Huawei have done very little marketing for their Nexus devices. They’d much rather sell you a higher priced version of those phones complete with their overlay and carrier crapware/locks and other “bells and whistles” they can monetize. Sure, you can buy a Nexus 6P at Huawei.com, but I don’t see a lot of marketing money coming from Huawei. In fact, I don’t see a lot of marketing for Nexus devices at all, though Google has certainly expanded the program since inception. Initially you could only buy Nexus devices at Google. Now you can pick them up at any store.

Google has a real opportunity here if it plays its cards right. It destroyed Microsoft’s handset OSes by not only being better but also giving the software away for free. Google may see an opportunity in Apple’s recent growth stall as well. All of those people who are tired of getting screwed by their carriers and paying twice as much for Apple iPhones as comparable Nexus phones might seem like a ripe market for Google to exploit, especially in an economic downturn.

Speaking of the carriers, Google is also going the extra mile, so to speak, with its Fi and Fiber services. Eliminating the carrier part of the equation is a huge incentive for customers who are tired of the games that the carriers play.

Google may finally think it has the whole package together and is ready to pounce. Throwing some of its billions of dollars and marketing prowess at the situation might make Nexus phones the only Google phones.

But Google is playing a very dangerous game. It risks not only alienating its hardware partners and the mobile device carriers but also Apple, its biggest source of services revenue, who could all but eliminate Google services from their devices if things got desperate.