Google Looks to Play it Safe With Nexus S

The Nexus One had such ambitious goals: It was going to push the state of Android (s goog) hardware and it was going to establish a direct-to-consumer model for unlocked phones. Now Google seems to be trading its ground-breaking approach for something more familiar, friendly and safe with the Nexus One’s heir apparent, the Nexus S.

Evidence of the Nexus S showed up today on Engadget and Phandroid, which found a Best Buy web page featuring it on sale for the holidays. It’s unclear if this is the same as the rumored Nexus Two though it’s likely they are the same. But while the Nexus S shares the Nexus name, it doesn’t seem to created in the same spirit which makes me wonder why it bears the name at all.

While the original tried unsuccessfully to establish a more European style of buying phones unlocked and unsubsidized, the Nexus S looks like it will be sold initially through Best Buy (s bby), and be locked to T-Mobile. The phone itself, if early reports are to be believed, doesn’t seem like a terribly ground-breaking handset like the Nexus One was at the time of its launch. Except for a possible 1.2 GHz processor, the Nexus S looks like very much like a Samsung Galaxy S phone, which makes sense because they’re both built by Samsung.

In many ways, the Nexus S looks like it’s built to not offend Google’s manufacturing and carrier partners. The phone won’t substantially upstage or compete heavily with most existing phones. That wasn’t the case with the Nexus One, which launched right on the heels of the Motorola Droid (s mot) on Verizon Wireless (s vz), which Om said angered both the carrier and the manufacturer.

So the second generation Nexus handset will just be a Google-flavored phone with a stock operating system, though it will likely be the first to sport Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). Don’t get me wrong — the new Nexus S is good for developers who want to build apps on a device that can get updated in a timely manner. And it’s nice for consumers who want a phone free from all the custom user-interface skins that manufacturers are piling on, or a device that can get updates quickly without waiting for carrier approval. And I understand Google had a tough go of it the first time with its online store. But it’s disappointing that Google isn’t trying to to push the envelope anymore.

I could be wrong, and Google could revive its online store. Andy Rubin, VP of engineering at Google, said the company is still interested in selling unlocked phones, and we could certainly see versions of the Nexus S sold unlocked. But Google seems less interested in challenging the established carriers these days and more interested in partnering with them. Having seen the Nexus One, I wish its successor was a little more ambitious.

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