Google Play Edition Phones Deserve a Comeback in 2024

In Short
  • Google Play Edition devices launched in 2014 to bring pure Android to different devices.
  • A total of five Play Edition devices and one tablet were released before the project was killed.
  • Here's why I think Google should revive the project and partner with manufacturers to combine the best of hardware with software.

Google’s Play Edition experiment offered a glimpse of pure Android on popular devices. These phones boasted a clean interface and speedy updates straight from Google. Play Edition devices were shortlived with only five handsets and one tablet ever released. But now is a great time to bring them back. Here’s why.

Why Google Play Edition?

The Pixel lineup and their UI have soared in popularity, while manufacturers like Samsung continue to deliver top-notch hardware. Although UI preference is subjective, I feel the optimization and user experience that Pixel’s software offers is a notch above. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the likes of OneUI and ColorOS but there’s something about Pixels that keeps bringing me back to them. I’ve realized that part of it is due to the cameras but the other thing is the software experience.

Google Play Edition Devices The Verge
Image Courtesy: The Verge

Customization is Android’s forte and so have been the choices. But sometimes users crave a clean, minimal experience with all the essential features. When a Pixel user switches to the Galaxy S24, they may not like OneUI because it’s no longer an “at home” feeling. While users may adapt, they’d miss out on early access to new features every few weeks which has been a Pixel perk.

So what if Google collaborated with major OEMs to launch Google Play Edition devices? Imagine a version of Galaxy S24 Ultra with Pixel UI or “Play Edition Android”. This Play Edition would offer the stock Android experience and feature updates directly from Google like Pixels do.

Google Play Edition Devices Checklist

Play Edition and Android One have been polar opposites in the past. But a revamped Play Edition could bridge the gap, offering both upper mid-range and high-end flagships. Think of devices like the Nothing Phone (2), iQOO Neo 9 Pro, Galaxy S24 Ultra, and OnePlus 12 with a clean, stock Android experience.

Nothing Phone (2)

Crucially, Google should manage updates directly, ensuring a minimum of four major Android updates and two years of security patches. We saw what happened when Google delegated updates to OEMs on devices like the Xiaomi Mi A series. It was a disaster.

In essence, Play Edition’s return should be driven by cleaner software, faster updates, and giving users a choice to pick the hardware they like.

Google’s Potential Challenges

UIs such as OneUI, ColorOS, Nothing OS, and HyperOS have matured so much over the years that firms might not want to direct their focus elsewhere. Unlike in the past, competition in UI design is fierce, making Play Edition a less attractive proposition for manufacturers.

However, there’s a potential upside. Since Google may handle the software, manufacturers could agree to make limited-run Play Edition devices at a premium price point. If the demand for Play Edition devices grows, Google could ask manufacturers to make more of such devices. We’re just shooting arrows blindfolded at this point.

Focusing on phones other than Pixels could be challenging, especially if the idea succeeds. Like the Google x Samsung partnership that we’re seeing right now, where features roll out simultaneously across both Samsung and Google flagships. Other OEMs could collaborate the same way but this may potentially disrupt their existing phone management.

Image Courtesy: SAMMOBILE

We might never see the Play Edition devices for the reason that it requires both Google and the manufacturer to put in their time, leaving their actual business model with less attention. The challenges could also creep up in sales of the phones and their respective ecosystems.

The bottom line here is manufacturers have put so much effort into developing their respective OS UIs and ecosystems in the last decade that they may prioritize refining them rather than collaborating for spinoffs. Ultimately, they would want to stick to what they do best instead of investing in ideas that may not work and leave them in a no man’s land. It would hurt Google’s Pixel sales as well.

Closing Thoughts

Upper mid-range devices would be solid contenders as Google Play Edition devices. For example, the OnePlus 12R offers solid specifications for the price and is easily one of the best devices you can buy under $600. Previous Play Edition devices such as the Galaxy S4 and HTC One also fell in a similar price range.

Google Play Edition may never see the light of day again but it represents an experiment worth revisiting. Having exceptional hardware and cameras with well-optimized software and Google’s post-processing is something I drool about frequently.

Comments 1
  • Sarat says:

    I think pixel’s differentiation is exclusivity of its Android. Bringing back Google Play would mean doing away with their most exclusive offering to pixel phones which is Timely and faster updates, I don’t think Google would want to dilute that offering.

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