Mark Bridge writes:
Four months ago, Google unveiled a new way for consumers to buy an Android mobile phone. In fact, that’s pretty much what the first line of the press release said. The phone was the Nexus One and it was being sold online by Google.
You could buy it SIM-free or you could buy it with a contract – but you’d be buying it from Google’s online shop. You couldn’t buy it on a real high street.
But now that’s all changed. First came the announcement that Vodafone UK would be selling the phone themselves from the end of April – and now from today Phones 4U is also selling the Nexus One.
Google isn’t describing this as any kind of turnaround or failure. When it’s talked about the situation it’s said it’s doing this to get more Nexus One phones to more people more quickly. Which, of course, you might think it could have done by working more closely with those channels in the first place.
So what’s happened? Is this all about shifting more devices? Well, Google’s never said the Nexus One was going to be a big seller, which is just as well because reports suggest that Google is still a long way off hitting a million units. Goldman Sachs said in March it now estimated 1 million units for this year, having previously anticipated 3½ million.
Okay – so is it an admission that networks know best? They’ve got the end-to-end infrastructure in place, which is a pretty big contrast with the online-only customer service offered when the Nexus One was launched. That didn’t go down well with quite a few buyers.
Is it part of a realisation that Google really doesn’t want to be seen as a rival to mobile manufacturers and networks? As CEO Eric Schmidt said at Mobile World Congress, it wants to work with them.
Or is it none of these – and is it instead a genuine success as an ambassador for the Android operating system? Google says the Nexus One has been profitable – and since it went on sale, Android’s share of the US and UK smartphone markets has picked up pretty dramatically.
Over here, GfK Retail and Technology says the proportion of Android phones sold on pay monthly contracts rose from 3% to over 12% during a recent four week period. Okay, that’s just four weeks – but it could be a sign that the Nexus One isn’t what we thought it was. Perhaps (to use an analogy from American Football) it was never going to be a star quarterback. Perhaps it was only ever intended to be a cheerleader.