Oh, Nexus One, you had such promise! What happened? On Friday, Google put the final nail (ok, maybe next-to-final) in the coffin of their grand experiment in the direct-to-consumer mobile phone design and sales business, namely the Google Nexus One.
As those of you who follow the mobile device industry know, the Nexus One debuted earlier this year as Google's self-designed epitome of what an Android phone should be. The phone introduced then was sleek, fast, open and out to give Android's competitors a run for their money. The phone was well receivedby the tech industry pundits and is still loved by their die-hard fanboys.
Sales of the Nexus One to the masses, however, didn't quite take off. Not even six months after the launch of the Nexus One, Google announced it would be pulling the plug on the Web store. Now, the Nexus One will only be available to the masses until Google runs out. Luckily for Android developers, they will still be able to purchase handsets in order to have a solid development platform. Without mass production, though, who knows how long they will be available, what carriers they will work on or how expensive they will be.
Now, if you've read this far, you may be assuming this is going to be an anti-Android/Google post, because I have been accused of being an Apple fanboy many times in the past. [more]Not so! In fact, I think the market failure of the Nexus One is going to be a dark spot in the history of the mobile device industry.
The Nexus One had an important reason to be a strong competitor in a Smartphone market dominated by Apple and other handset manufacturers and carriers. Competition, after all, breeds innovation.
There are many Android-based phones on the market, so why do I believe the Nexus One should have been an important competitor? Are other Android phones non-innovative compared to it? No, this is not the reason. I wanted the Nexus One to succeed was because it was a Google-designed phone that didn't bow down to the demands of any particular service provider. It was a phone that Google made the way it wanted to, without crapware and lockdowns enforced by behemoths such as AT&T and Verizon. It was also sold direct to consumers, which was a new thing for Google. I'm afraid the combination of these factors, however, contributed greatly to the phone's demise.
Here are the reasons why I think the Nexus One failed as a mass-market Smartphone. These reasons come from my own perception on the phone and mobile device industry in general. Being an iPhone owner, I don't follow Android-based phone news as closely as some of my friends, so much of the information I hear about them comes from the same sources you or they read online. Even if you think my reasons are full of crap, remember this comes from my perception of what happened with the Nexus One. I didn't do a lot of research past a few Google searches while writing this article, so I may even be way off. Remember, though, facts are only as good as how widely they are perceived, so my opinions as an Android "outsider" may help you better understand the thoughts of those who didn't buy a Nexus One.
The Price, Compatibility
When the Nexus One launched in the U.S., it wasn't available on our largest mobile provider, AT&T. When it did become available, the price was a steep $500-plus for an unlocked, unsubsidized version of the phone. Price, I believe, still is the major deterrent to the acceptance of any neat, new gizmo, no matter how cool it is. The Nexus One was a phone built for Android lovers who were longing to escape the clutches of Microsoft, RIM and Apple-based Smartphones. The love came at a price, however.
Google, easily one of the most popular websites to ever exist, simply didn't get the word out about their new phone. Granted, the homepage did feature the Nexus One, but it was only for a little while. Could the removal of the phone from the home page be related to pressure from other manufacturers or the carriers themselves? We may never know. There were plenty of opportunities for Google to push this phone, but it didn't happen compared to how in-your-face iPhone and Droid ads have been. It's not like Google doesn't have the money! The bottom line is: If you're not a computer geek that has an interest in mobile devices, then you probably didn't look into the Nexus One beyond the initial hype.
No Hands-On Experience
Tech reporters and Google alike think we need a hands-on, retail experience to fall in love with and buy a device like the Nexus One. I'm sure this is true, but couldn't this also be because of the failure of the marketing machine? Let's look at Apple and Verizon, for example. Prior to the release of the iPhone 4, no one had any hands-on experience with it until launch day, save for the normal industry reviewers, etc. Yes, there have been previous iPhone editions that set a precedent, but Apple sold millions within a few days after the product's launch. Similar conditions were present for the new Droid Xon Verizon, which also sold out on its first day. That's a lot of sales for not having a hands-on experience.
Competing With Itself
The last factor against the Nexus One is the fact Android competes with itself. If you want an Android phone, there are dozens to choose from on multiple carriers. This is great for the consumer, but bad for a niche product such as the Nexus One. With high price points for unlocked phones on certain carriers and others, such as Verizon, offering near-irresistible buy-one-get-one-free (which included the Droid) deals, the Nexus One was doomed to be overshadowed by cheaper phones that received a brighter spotlight.
Even after tough lessons learned from the Nexus One, I'd like to see Google supervise the creation of another phone. Large industry players, such as Apple and Google, are the only companies that have enough leverage over service providers to cut the crap and deliver a sleek, clean Smartphone to the consumer. Google will be an important player in keeping the Android platform truly open on mobile devices. After all, just because the OS is "open," manufacturers aren't obligated to let you play as you like on their devices, such as all the news speculating about the Droid X's eFuse chip. For the good of the industry, innovation and competition, let's hope that Google phones don't stop with the Nexus One.