When rumours and leaks of Google’s Nexus One surfaced on the web, the amount of media hype and speculation that followed was virtually inescapable. Fast forward to the phone’s launch earlier this month and the Nexus One was naturally plastered all over the headlines. This time it was all about the flood of customer complaints, which Google described as ‘a few kinks’. Things weren’t helped by the search giant’s novel idea of trying to answer all customer queries by e-mail. The resulting chaos that followed continues to send echoes down the depths of the tube that channel our world-wide web.
Initial reviews have already demonstrated the unresponsiveness of the phone’s otherwise very large and beautiful touchscreen among other minor problems. But ‘a few kinks’ are part and parcel of the launch of any brand new hardware so I’m sure HTC, I mean Google, will have those sorted out quickly. The Nexus One is most certainly a powerful phone and arguably the best Android phone according to some. And yet it is largely an unremarkable phone considering how much is expected of smartphones nowadays.
The phone has also been deemed to be too expensive. This is perhaps partly why it has suffered from poor launch sales, with a paltry 20,000 units sold in the first week compared to 250,000 units achieved by the Motorola Droid (known as the ‘Milestone’ in the Europe/Asia). If this was Google’s attempt to jumpstart the Android platform, so far it appears to be ineffective at best. Analysts estimated the Nexus One would go on to sell 5 to 6 million units this year. So 20,000 in the first week does not seem like a great start towards achieving such a landmark. Although in the interests of fairness, it’s probably worth noting that the Nexus One was hardly marketed unlike the Droid and it is being only sold through Google’s website.
However, it’s not a question of justifying the perceived failure of the Nexus One’s launch but the reasoning behind the contributing factors to this failure.
Instead of putting its marketing weight behind it and releasing the phone on a bigger network, Google opted for a relatively low-key launch and chose to experiment with how and where the phone would be sold – exclusively on its website, on the smallest network in the US. One can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity for a corporation in Google’s position to really throw the gauntlet down, innovate and mount a serious challenge to the iPhone.
As they say, the first impression is the best impression. The amount of criticism, however undeserved it may have been, faced by the Nexus One may now hurt the prospects of Nexus One’s successor, which Google says will be aimed more towards entrepreneurs, thus moving further away from the mass market appeal of the iPhone.
While it was probably inevitable Google would eventually launch its own phone, I’m not convinced that releasing the Nexus One so soon was the right thing to do. Mobile phone companies would never adopt or share a common platform developed by another mobile phone company simply due to the nature of the business. That’s the whole reason why different mobile phone makers use Windows Mobile even if some have developed their own OS - because it is not in conflict with their personal interests.
With Google entering the smartphone market with its own branded handset, it risks undermining the other Android licensees, particularly the recently progress made by the Droid. As Motorola’s former CEO said, “If the Nexus One is any good, why would you buy anything else?”.
It’s going to take something special from the Mountain View giant to maintain the delicate harmony of hardware versus software without souring its relationship with its partners.
It could also end up solidifying everything carriers are afraid of about VOIP (Voice-Over IP) should Google manage to position the Nexus One as the proverbial Trojan horse for its Google Voice software. Let’s face it, Google wants be a carrier someday, handling all your emails, text messages, voice mails, and last but not least phone calls.
On the flip side, the phone could be seen as Google leading from the front and setting a standard for future Android phones. In such a fiercely competitive market, Google can’t rely on other companies to decide the fate of its Android platform. Analysts already predict that in five years’ time more people will be connected to the web via mobile phones than through desktops. By directly entering the market, Google will hope to shape its own destiny in that future.
The Nexus One could simply be a prelude to Google’s long-term plans for gaining a foothold in the smartphone market, with the goal of converging all of its web products and services into the Android platform, hence the term ‘Nexus’, and ultimately its aim to monopolise the mobile advertising space.
So maybe there is a cunning strategy behind the Nexus One that I am too short-sighted to see, but for now it appears to be a case of Google simply playing it safe. In my opinion, a bit too safe.