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Google's Nexus One Phone: A Case Study in Bad Product Management

Google (GOOG) has added yet another accessory for its Nexus One phone: a $55 car dock. Pricey. Maybe the company should have spent more time solving the more pressing problems that have dogged the device since its January introduction.

Given how often we've looked at problems with Apple (AAPL) products, including the iPad morning-after hangover, it seemed only fair to look at how Nexus One customer complaints continue to mount. Read posts on the Google Nexus One support forums and you get a list of concerns that includes:

  • bad 3G signal strength and loss of connection when holding the phone by the bottom half
  • touch screens where touch points and corresponding image positions can be off by as much as an inch
  • short battery life
  • unresponsive trackballs
  • issues with various sensors, including proximity and ambient light
  • flaky Bluetooth operation
  • bad sound quality on the speaker and insufficient volume for the earpiece
  • unexpected and uncontrolled phone muting
  • a frequent issue with the front glass breaking
Bad enough, right? But compounding these problems is a general sense in the posts that Google has been unresponsive and unhelpful, which parallels complaints from the product's introduction. When HTC, which actually makes the hardware, takes on a customer problem, things can get even worse. For example, HTC apparently told CNET that the glass on a review model of the Nexus One broke because the phone isn't supposed to go into a customer pocket.

I've wondered whether Google wanted to seriously sell the Nexus One, or if the handset was supposed to be the mobile equivalent of a concept car, to egg on the company's hardware partners. Whatever the case, you'd think that solving customer problems would be an important thing to do, especially when you consider the competition. As one customer wrote on the support forums:

Google is selling a phone at the same pricepoint as Apple. They are competing with Apple. Lets compare Google's service with Apple. If I have any problem with an Apple product, i walk into a store and have a person talk to me within 10 seconds. If there is no apple store nearby, I don't call apple and sit there listening to "Oh, I'm sorry, I know you bought the phone from Apple and it says Apple on the phone, but some company in Taiwan made the phone so go ahead and talk to them if you have any problems."
Then again, no company is perfect, and Apple has had more than its share of product problems, including serious overheating. By the way, if you bought one of the original iPod nanos with the easily scratched screen five years ago and were part of the class action suit, your check is finally on its way.