Google-Verizon Tablet Could Be Another Nexus One Flop in the Making

Last Updated May 12, 2010 11:21 AM EDT

If nothing succeeds like success, then nothing fails like a complete blunder. The Google (GOOG) Nexus One was a prime example. The entire project was a case study in bad product management and poor retail strategy. So, will the company's tablet project with Verizon (VZ) do any better? It depends on whether Google learns any lessons from its previous disaster.

How badly did the Nexus One do? In the same time it took Apple (AAPL) to sell a million of the first generation iPhone, Google sold an estimated 135,000 Nexus Ones. Motorola looks to have sold over a million Droids in the same period. Both Verizon and Sprint (S) dumped plans to carry the Google phone. Here's a quick rundown of the issues Google had in the market:
  • The product management was atrocious. Too many fundamental problems simply shouldn't have existed in a first attempt at a branded product.
  • Furthermore, either Google never figured out how to handle the support issues or didn't care. The result: Many angry customers who couldn't get any satisfaction.
  • Complicating the potential massive customer relationship headache for any carrier was the fact that Google wanted to sell an unlocked phone and potentially further tip the balance of power from carrier to handset vendor. To take on that type of risk, a carrier wants success.
  • The launch even was a failure, largely because Google sucks at marketing.
  • Given how badly the Nexus One did, Google proved that its brand doesn't have the reach or power that many thought, meaning that the company is more dependent on partners than it might have liked.
Now comes news that Verizon and Google are working on an iPad rival. Not that this is surprising. Verizon has disliked being frozen out of the iPhone's success and could see the same thing happen with the iPad. There's already been a leak that Google had a tablet in the works. The Agnilux acquisition only confirmed its further interest in selling branded mobile devices with connections to cloud computing.

Currently there are few details -- no date of roll-out, no name of a hardware manufacturer. The fact that Verizon specifically named Google makes it sound as though the latter will have a more substantial role than simply providing an operating system. However, no matter what the exact configuration of the project, the potential routes to failure are many.

Google must overcome its systemic arrogance and understand how little it knows about the consumer device market, and how much it must learn to keep people happy. Sending off something even three-quarters baked won't do, and hosting a web site for complaints is far from real customer service. Verizon will have heavy lifting in marketing, even if a tablet is up to snuff, as Google has shown that it needs partners that know how to reach people.

Unfortunately, there won't be much room for error. Apple sold a million iPads in 28 days -- and many of those were Wi-Fi only models without a tie-in to a mobile carrier. If Google and Verizon don't want their tablet to be a Nexus One disappointment, they must deliver solid performance, smart features, and reliability, all at a price that will has to include the data plan that Verizon will require. It's a tall order, and it's not clear that Google, with or without Verizon, can deliver.

Related Coverage: Headstone image: RGBStock.com user melodi2, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    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.

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