So, Google has announced the launch of the latest Nexus-branded devices, with a smartphone, an updated 7-inch tablet, and a 10-inch tablet set to reach the market soon.

But as the Android market has evolved over the last few years, the need for the company to be driving the launch of a Nexus smartphone every year seems less and less clear.

There is still a lot to play for in the tablet market, which is less mature, and where Android has been less successful in denting the dominance of Apple’s iPad.

But in the smartphone space, Android is clearly the platform with momentum on its side, with a healthy supporting device maker base.

At launch, the first (HTC-made) Nexus One was tagged a “superphone”, and its specification sheet certainly made it stand out from the other early Android devices available from vendors and operators.

And the specifications of the new Nexus 4 are certainly impressive.

But when compared with other devices available from vendors such as HTC, Samsung and LG, they are not enough to truly make it stand out as the smartphone to own.

Indeed, the device omits LTE which, while far from being a standard feature at the moment, has become increasingly common among high-end devices – especially among those targeting the US market.

Omitting it certainly enables the device to be built to a lower price, but also reduces its hold on the “superphone” title.

Its other features – screen, processor, form factor and so on – are also good. But it isn’t outstanding.

Unsurprisingly, many people began comparing it with the Galaxy S III, the latest smartphone in Samsung’s flagship portfolio. And, despite the Samsung device being on the market for nearly six months, the Nexus 4 does not move things on greatly.

There are some differentiators for the Nexus 4, such as the fact it runs the latest (and an unadulterated version of) Android. But for all but the few, this is unlikely to be a significant differentiator, especially as Android 4.2 is an incremental upgrade over the earlier version, rather than adding significant new features.

Indeed, it may be a better use of Google’s time to try and drive a swifter adoption of its new OS across-the-board, including making timely updates available for devices already in the market, rather than focusing its efforts on a single terminal.

Nexus 4 is also relatively cheap in unlocked form, which may prove appealing to some customers looking to buy device and service separately. But it is still the case that the most common model in many markets is for customers to buy subsidised devices and services together, rather than assembling the various parts themselves.

Where Nexus 4 is being supported by operators, its pricing is comparable with other Android devices – including the Galaxy S III and HTC One X+ – which are on paper at least as capable. With Samsung certainly the brand of the moment in the Android smartphone space, it is far from certain that LG and Nexus can provide competition for this.

Arguably, what has happened – deliberately or otherwise – is that the Nexus smartphone has moved from being the flagship, to being an almost-flagship. And as HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG, ZTE, Huawei and others will undoubtedly testify, this market is already well served without Google’s input.

Google has never said how many Nexus smartphones have been sold, with its manufacturer partners remaining equally tight-lipped. But with the Android device market already being fiercely competitive, it looks like little more than a vanity project.

Steve Costello

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members