Google Nexus One Phone Announcement Was a Failure

Last Updated Jan 6, 2010 8:36 AM EST

There are all types of ways to judge how a marketing event did. A crucial one is to measure the results by the expectations the company was explicitly setting. When you look at how Google (GOOG) tried framing its Consumer Electronics Show announcement of the Nexus One telephone, what comes to mind is a loud buzzer as the failed contestant is marched off the stage.

According to the company's own press release, there were two underlying themes: a new way to purchase phones, and the emergence of a new handset class that Google wanted to call "superphones." On both measures, the company was largely a washout.

Start with the new way to purchase phones. By phrasing this as " new way for consumers to purchase an Android mobile phone, a web store hosted by Google," the company was literally correct. As Google had never hosted a site to sell handsets of any kind, then, yes, it was something new for consumers. However, at least at this phase of the implementation, there is nothing new for consumers. Unlocked phones have been available for years. Buying on the web has been possible for years. Getting a subsidized price through carriers has been de rigueur for years.

What could have been new was Google using online ads and its own economic power to subsidize phone costs itself to crank up Android adoption. But that was never to be. For all its muscle, Google has little to no leverage over carriers or handset manufacturers because it so thoroughly depends on them to adopt its platform in a crowded market. Rather than shaking up telecommunications, the company has walked quietly and obediently to take the place that the long-term players are allowing it. The reason is that CEO Eric Schmidt so wants the promise of mobile advertising that he fears rocking the boat, even though the vast expected possibilities are still promise and not fact.

As far as the Nexus One being a superphone, Google has succeeded at least in getting the press and analysts to start using the term. That's been one of the quickest linguistic pick-ups that I can remember seeing. However, from all the reviews I've seen to date, while the Nexus One may be solid, it has yet to enter a phone booth to don spandex and a cape. That's not good, given the likelihood of Google's treating the device as telecom's answer to the concept car. It needed something so compelling that people would have said, "I've never seen anything like that before," and OEMs would have said, "We'd better come up with something a whole lot better." Instead, the reaction was, "Pretty good phone." Given the lead that Apple (AAPL) has achieved with the iPhone, anything less than amazement was disappointment.

Image via stock.xchng user iamwahid, site standard license.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.