Google’s new Nexus One smartphone is not an iPhone killer. It may not even be a Droid killer, but it may be Google’s first serious and most public misstep. Basically, the Nexus One is a somewhat faster Droid with a somewhat better screen.
Here are six things the Nexus One has going against it:
1. This is a great phone if you use Google apps, but not so good at synchronizing with a desktop or laptop computer. If you are into the whole Google “cloud” thing, this is your phone. If not, well…
2. I have to wonder how much Google engineers had to do with the hardware. A nearly useless, tiny, sometimes glowing trackball? Sure, that came from the Googleplex. If Google is going to put its name on hardware, it should be hardware that makes sense.
3. The Nexus One puts Google into competition with its “partners.” One reason Microsoft hasn’t done more in smartphones is handset makers’ fears they would eventually be marginalized, as Microsoft has done to PC hardware companies. It may be inevitable, but Google is certainly making Android and its own applications at least as important as the handsets they run on. Unless Google thinks the Nexus One will be a big win–its own iPhone–and is willing to relegate other companies’ Android handsets to perpetual “also ran” status, this is a bad deal.
4. It’s bad for Android. At least the Android that everyone besides Google uses. The Nexus One will give handset makers even more incentive to take open-source Android into quasi-proprietary user interfaces and applications.
5. It’s on T-Mobile (in the U.S.). If there is a carrier that is less well-liked than AT&T, it’s T-Mobile. Or at least it would be if T-Mobile had even nearly as many customers as AT&T. (T-Mobile is the #4 U.S. carrier). This is the company that, with Microsoft’s help, suffered a huge data loss late last year. Some people like T-Mobile, but I mostly hear people complaining about coverage issues.
Yes, Google said the Nexus one will end up on Verizon’s network, too. Until that happens, the phone–here in the U.S.–is linked to a decidedly second-tier carrier.
6. Google isn’t a smartphone ecosystem company. The main reason for the iPhone’s huge success is that Apple controls virtually every part of the customer experience and manages it quite well. Especially important are the Apps Store and iTunes, both as an application for managing the handset and as the world’s largest music retailer.
Google has treated Android apps and sales with a sort of benign neglect that is not a recipe for huge success. Google either needs to get into the apps and content sales business or accept that Android will not be an iPhone killer until those markets change. I’d like to see a Google version of iTunes, too.
Google doesn’t need the risk that the Nexus One presents. I see lots of risk and no reward in Google’s getting into the handset business. Google must think it alone can do something that call the other handset companies in the world–combined–cannot do.
But if it can’t, the Nexus One will be a very public and embarassing come-uppance for the Googlers. Simply put: The Nexus One isn’t a really great start.
Friends who have tried both the Nexus One and the iPhone tell me they are keeping their iPhones. It is hard to tell why Google feels the need to do its own handset, though it presumably is to bring applications to users more quickly. Still, I am stuck with the feeling that by getting into hardware to such a degree, Google is a tad beyond its considerable depth.
Overall, I think Google would be better off concentrating on the Android ecosystem and letting the hardware manufacturers design the hardware–with ample help from the Googleplex, of course.
David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as
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