A special edition, stock Android version of the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone will go on sale June 26 on the Google Play store for $649, Google announced Wednesday at the start of its annual Google I/O conference.
The device will still run Android 4.2, as do existing versions sold by U.S. carriers. But it will run the stock version of Android, minus the custom software added by Samsung, such as the TouchWiz interface or software included from various carriers.
"What we're seeing here is real and it feels really awesome.... It is a spectacular device," said Google's Hugo Barra, vice president of product management, as he held up a special edition GS4.
The 16GB model will use LTE on AT&T and T-Mobile USA and feature an SD card. Purchasing the special edition GS4 allows system updates to Android to download promptly, Barra said.
Google already sells the Nexus 4 smartphone running stock Android 4.2 for as little as $299, without a contract, on Amazon. Some members of the I/O audience moaned their disappointment at the higher $649 price of the special GS4 when it was announced.
Also at I/O, Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps defended the division between the Android and Chrome operating systems, even though some analysts believe the two should be combined to reduce confusion and duplication.
"We're fortunate at Google to have two platforms -- Android and Chrome," Pichai said at the start of his keynote. "Android had the simple goal of open standards and now is the most popular mobile OS in the world. Chrome was a simple journey to make the most popular browser in the world. We are working hard to push personal computing forward."
In addition to announcing several new Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to help developers build more apps for Google Play, Google announced it had reached 900 million activations of Android in 2013, up from 400 million a year ago. Also, Google Play application installs have reached 48 billion, Google said.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.