Nexus One Naysayers Are Missing the Bigger Picture

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Google Nexus One
Google's getting a bit of a beating in the media these days. Since unveiling its Nexus One Android phone last week, the company's come under fire for everything from poor customer support to poor first-week sales with its first foray into the mobile market.

The former is an issue Google will no doubt need to address. Whether they buy in a store or online, people expect a reasonable amount of guidance on something as indispensable as a cell phone. A solution could come in the form of a more robust support system by Google, or a more traditional support system by the carrier -- which, as The Wall Street Journal points out, could end up happening once the Nexus One reaches Verizon Wireless.

Assuming Google can work out the technical kinks, however, I'd argue that the sales numbers themselves may not be as big of a disappointment as some are suggesting. Here's why.

Nexus One Numbers

First, to be clear, the Nexus One sales numbers are far from official. They come from Flurry, an analytics firm that measures mobile app usage and then uses that data to make estimates about overall ownership.

With that being said, Flurry estimates that Google sold 20,000 Nexus One handsets during the phone's first week on the market. That's compared to an estimated 60,000 first-week sales for the MyTouch 3G and an estimated 250,000 for the Motorola Droid. All three phones debuted in a single country with no existing user base.

(Flurry estimates that the iPhone 3GS sold 1.6 million units in its first week; however, that phone debuted in eight countries with a substantial existing user base from previous iPhone models, so it's far less of an even comparison.)

Nexus One: The Bigger Picture

Google Nexus One
Methodology aside, Flurry's figure has led many to label the Nexus One launch as weak. Twenty-thousand, after all, is a mere fraction of the sales seen by the far more heavily marketed Droid.

Despite the disparity, though, there are a couple of important factors to keep in mind: First, assuming the Nexus One did sell only 20,000 units in its first week, it did so without any significant advertising or marketing campaign beyond Google's own pages. The Droid, in comparison, was backed by a reported initial marketing budget of $100 million. These are two very different business strategies with very different investments.

Second, and perhaps more important, raw numbers alone are likely not what the Nexus One is really about. By launching its own direct sales platform for phones, assuming it can work out those aforementioned issues, Google is setting the stage for a new kind of distribution model. One where the phone you buy is more about the operating system than the carrier, even the manufacturer. One where you look to a single Web site to find the handset you need.

Here's the thing: Google is known for focusing on long-term strategies, as we've seen with everything from Chrome to the company's ever-expanding advertising empire. While it's easy to knock the Nexus One's early numbers, there's a good chance those aren't the real measure of the project's success.

The truth is, it's far too soon to know whether Google's long-term strategy for phone sales will pay off. And, given that, it's definitely far too nearsighted to label the Nexus One a failure based on five digits and seven days.

JR Raphael frequently covers mobile technology for both PC World and eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway. Check out his new Facebook page:

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