Phones

Google Nexus One: Lessons Learned from the Failed Experiment

The Nexus One is dead. Gone. As of today, Google's experiment in self-branding an Android smartphone is over--with a meteoric rise and fall that holds some valuable lessons for competing platforms and future Android smartphones.

Google's attempt to build the ultimate Android smartphone ended today with the demise of the Nexus One.
In the days leading up to the unveiling of the Nexus One, the media was filled with the usual speculation that accompanies such events. The rumor that Google would sell the Android smartphone directly fueled expectations that the Nexus One could herald the end of device-carrier exclusivity, and introduce a new era of wireless freedom.

Unfortunately, the actual launch event failed to live up to the hype. Yes, Google introduced a direct sales model where the Nexus One was only available directly from the Google online store. However, the device was still tied more or less to a provider--and it was the weakest of the four major wireless carriers in the United States, T-Mobile.

With the Nexus One, Google introduced a new release of its OS--Android 2.1. The new features and capabilities of the OS were actually the primary focus of the Nexus One launch event, and were arguably the best thing about the Nexus One. Unfortunately for Google and the Nexus One, Android is available on a variety of smartphones so the Android 2.1 OS was not a compelling reason to purchase the Nexus One per se.

The Nexus One hardware--engineered to Google's exacting specifications by HTC--was only a modest step up from existing Android smartphones like the Motorola Droid. Due to the open nature of Android, the mediocre Nexus One was quickly left in the dust by other Android smartphones--including competing Android smartphones also developed by HTC, such as the HTC Incredible and the EVO 4G.

One of the most perplexing aspects of the Nexus One experiment was the alliance with T-Mobile. It is somewhat understandable that Google wouldn't team up with AT&T given that AT&T is the sole provider of Android's main competition--the Apple iPhone, and that AT&T did not offer any Android devices at all at the time of the Nexus One launch.

T-Mobile makes sense on some level, perhaps out of a sense of loyalty. T-Mobile was the first major carrier to provide Android handsets, and it had the largest selection of Android devices, so maybe Google felt it apropos to launch Nexus One with it.

However, Verizon had just invested millions in successfully branding and promoting its first foray into the world of Android with the Motorola Droid. As the largest wireless provider in the United States, Verizon offered a much larger potential pool of customers for the Nexus One. The fate of the Nexus One might not be what it is had Google not gone with T-Mobile.

Aside from trying to sell the incremental improvements offered by the Nexus One as some sort of watershed moment in the history of mobile communications--dubbing it, and other next-generation devices as "superphones" rather than smartphones, the other main focus of the Nexus One launch event was on the "revolutionary" sales model.

Google would only sell the phone directly via its online store. The concept had potential if Google would have developed some sort of cross-platform device capable of working with all four major wireless providers--that would be a real "superphone", or if it would have negotiated a no-contract service option similar to what Apple arranged with AT&T for the iPad.

One serious problem with the Google approach was that the combination of a device sold by Google, built by HTC, and serviced by T-Mobile led to confusion and finger-pointing when users looked for support. Google--used to providing support for Web-based services--was unprepared and ill-equipped to address user complaints within a reasonable timeframe.

Alas, the Nexus One never lived up to its promise and the expectations set for it. Great software that can also be found on other Android smartphones, combined with weak hardware, a marginal wireless provider, and a weird Web-only sales model doomed the device to failure.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments