There’s been a meme going around the Internet recently about how rich people are the beta testers for the rest of us. The example most people pull is from the movie Wall Street. The scene is Michael Douglas walking around the beach with a big honkin’ cell phone in his hand.
This is true for far more than just technology though. My wife and I have been watching Ken Burn’s documentary National Parks: America’s Best Ideas. Rich people were the first to go to national parks, too. The train ride was expensive, the time was not there for normal people, and even getting into the park was insane. In 1890 it cost $40 to get into Yosemite. That’s the equivalent of $1500 in today’s dollars. (For the record, it costs $20 per car today.)
So when I saw the news that Google was expanding the number of devices they will sell direct with a standard version of Android installed on it, this is exactly what I thought of. In the coming weeks, the HTC One will be available this way, the Samsung S4 will be available this way, and the Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 already ship this way.
Why do we care? Because Google is quietly building a collection of devices that customers can buy off-contract and with the standard Android user interface experience. These devices are also immediately updated to the latest version of Android when it ships.
Sure, $650 is a lot today compared to the $0-200 we pay on-contract, but that won’t last long. As prices drop to $200 or $100 over the next years, I suspect more people will opt to buy these devices directly rather than through a carrier and on-contract. This will give us constantly updated devices without all the garbage on them? Sign me up!