Google Repeats Wireless Mistakes

[Google,] Perhaps it will become clear to you why network operators test phones and certify them before they are put onto a network.

Google, welcome to the world of wireless devices! But did you have to make every mistake wireless device vendors have made over the past 20 years all in the same month? To start with, the introduction of your phone was over-hyped, a trait many industries are guilty of for sure, but it is hard to believe you have not learned from history that it is much better to leave it up to consumers and the press to plug the phone than to set yourself up as an easy target.

You are also trying to change the business model and selling phones both through a network operator (T-Mobile USA) and direct to consumers. The consumer price point of $500+, as Apple learned, cannot be sustained past the initial flurry of sales. According to a recent report in CEA SmartBrief, and based on numbers from Mobile Analytics, you have managed to sell only 20,000 devices since your January 5 launch compared to Verizon’s 250,000 Motorola Droid phones in a similar timeframe.

Further, you are pressuring T-Mobile to increase its termination fee for customers who opt out of the 2-year contract to the highest in the industry. I’m not sure whether you are trying to keep Nexus One users by imposing the higher termination fee or if you don’t understand that the FCC is already looking into termination fees and whether they should be regulated. In either case, this is not a smart move.

Then there are the complaints being posted on the Internet, the most significant of which are spotty 3G coverage and lack of customer support (an issue I know you are addressing, but it is a killer). Customer support is what distinguishes companies and so far your customer support rates Fs and Ds from most of your customers. Part of the issue is that there is nowhere for customers to go when there is a problem. With an iPhone, they can go to an Apple store or an AT&T store, with a BlackBerry or Motorola Droid they can go to the network store, and they can get good customer service for all of these via phone and on the web.

You can blame only a few of the complaints on the fact that the phone switches off the T-Mobile 3G network onto its EDGE network. My T-Mobile 3G BlackBerry works fine and stays connected to the 3G network while the Nexus One switches to EDGE. Just so you don’t feel alone, many iPhone 3GS customers are keeping their iPhone in EDGE-only mode to avoid the same type of switching problems. As AT&T upgrades its network, this will become less of a problem. However, the switching problem with the Nexus One appears to be internal to the device.

Perhaps it will become clear to you why network operators test phones and certify them before they are put onto a network. Building a phone that works on T-Mobile’s network does not guarantee it will work on AT&T’s network, or Vodafone’s, or any of the other GSM/WCDMA networks in the world. Each network has differences in switching and back-end services. One reason the iPhone works so well on the AT&T network, even in EDGE, is that AT&T worked with Apple and made some enhancements and changes to the network to be able to provide a better user experience.

The Nexus One is neither an iPhone killer nor a BlackBerry killer. You have made a mistake countless other handset vendors have made. The device is only one element in the success of handsets. What makes them true success stories, starting with the BlackBerry, is that they are complete end-to-end solutions from their desktop and server back-ends through the network and to the device. The Nexus One is sleek and nice. It is fast and the screen is great, but before someone can say it is the phone they want to use, they have to invest a lot of time setting it up and installing the types of applications they want. And it appears that they have to be willing to let Google become their back-end with Gmail, Google calendar, and more. ESPN found out the hard way that tying a phone to a specific type of service or application does not work in today’s world.

There are some things you did learn from others. The removable battery is one example. Another is one of Apple’s biggest issues to this day. You did not, out of the box, claim that this version of the Nexus One is for business customers. Apple learned the hard way that consumers and business customers are oftentimes one in the same. You are promising another Nexus designed for business, but if you are serious about that, it had better work with Microsoft’s Outlook out of the box. I think that will be difficult for Google since you seem to think Microsoft is the enemy, as are wireless network operators.

There is still time for you to become a competitor in this market. You have a good vendor that knows what it is doing, but it appears as though you might not have listened to HTC when it came to some aspects of the phone, which is another common tendency. Back in the day (so to speak) handset vendors showed up at the network operator’s offices and said, “Here is the next phone you will be selling,” and network operators accepted phones developed and designed by device vendors.

Over time, the network operators began to refuse to do business this way. Today, most device designs include network operator input. With the combination of smart device vendors and input from network operators, the device business has flourished. People like to be able to customize their devices and you will find, for example, that millions of BlackBerrys and iPhones have been personalized in a variety of ways at the whims of the customers. While you do allow for some personalization, much of what you are missing in the way of features and functions are things that could be augmented and/or enhanced by the network operators. Building a generic device designed to work on every network does not necessarily mean it will work the same way on each or that customers will be happy with the performance.

So as I said, Google, I welcome you to wireless, but I think it is time you stop trying to mold wireless into what you think it should be—a Google or Internet extension—and spend some time learning what wireless customers want from their devices and networks. The Nexus One is not a bad first effort and I am sure it will get better over time. RIM, Apple, and others were fast learners and then leaders. Let’s see how fast you can learn.

Andrew M. Seybold

One Comment on “Google Repeats Wireless Mistakes”

  1. msamples says:

    So do you think Google will listen to you any more than they listen to the bloggers on phandroid?

    I am a longtime Windows Mobile user, former MotoDROID user (gave it up because its more of a developer’s gadget cum mini-netbook than phone), and I now have an HTC ERIS.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the Android OS has some real promise. But the entire Android release has been a fiasco since day one. I think you hit it right on the head when you pointed out the mis-guided effort that attempts to segregate the Google vs Microsoft/Lotus external world rather than trying to recognize and integrate it.

    Google has apparently found a way to get the carriers and manufacturers to participate in their experiment. You can’t figure out if basic things are gone because the manufacturer (Motorola or HTC) has left them out, or because the OS just doesn’t support them.

    To make things worse no one owns the OS, therefore no one certifies whether any of the other apps work or manages how they interact. As a result when a user has a problem Verizon says “call the developer”, HTC and Motorola say “its not mine”, Google has no “google store”, and most of the developers will only tell you to try “uninstall and re-install”.

    And just think – in a few months the carriers will be rolling out LTE and Google can make mistakes at 10x the current speed – or maybe they will learn at 10x?


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