Machine Logic & Mobile Nature :

Google Follows Microsoft Kin, Ends Nexus One -Lessons Learned?

Another smartphone is added to the mobile device graveyard with the Google announcement, “Nexus One changes in availability,” a quick interpretation, the Nexus One will not be available from Google online but will be available through carrier partners, or maybe not.

The real memorial is for the web store and Google’s ill fated attempt to match the smooth integration of Apple’s iPhone and its retail operation. When it comes to mobile devices and in particular, smart phones, customers want the device their hands prior to purchase.

In Google’s blog post, they declare their intent to follow a more European model. A sales process, that with the exception of the Apple iPhone, is the same business model everyone else uses: manufacturer builds a handset and sells the handset through a wireless carrier or a 3rd party retail store. Google admits this in their statement, “…Android platform has exceeded our expectations, the web store has not. It’s remained a niche channel for early adopters, but it’s clear that many customers like a hands-on experience before buying a phone…”

The culture of Google, nurtured by its dominance in search, is not prepared for the type of competitive landscape that Apple has created, so focused on the user experience. Aggregating billions of searches in combination with relevant advertising has been a brilliant stroke and a financial goldmine while avoiding the costs of customer interaction. Although it makes great business sense to avoid costs, this situation does not allow Google to learn from customer relations and when successful with them, the intense customer loyalty that Apple has so effectively fostered.

Google’s web store allowed customers to see the Android devices they may have wished to purchase but they could not ask questions, handle the phones or experience other customers in a casual surrounding. An Apple store is a study in user experience and interface applied to the retail environment. The stores strike an amazing balance: making the customer who has never owned an Apple product instantly feel invited and welcome, while at the same time, giving the established and loyal customer a sense of efficiency. The nurturing approach given to a recent inductee would feel irritating to an experienced user, while the immediate and direct answers for a long term user might feel brusque and off putting to the new customer.

Google ceded the industrial design of its Android phones to the manufactures, choosing an OEM relationship for Android that is not unlike Microsoft’s Windows relationship with PC manufacturers. Developing an ongoing strategy by looking at a successful past is not, in itself, a bad idea, the problem in this case is that it is like a half read book. Microsoft became one of the richest companies in the world with this practice but the occasional disconnect between operating system and PC has led to on and off again security and performance issues, while the increasing commodification of the PC has led to vanishing margins for the manufacturers.

While it took decades for this scenario to play out for Microsoft Windows, it appears to be occurring in a much more rapid fashion for the Android phone market. Over a dozen manufacturers and a huge variety of phones, each with a unique interpretation and version of the Android OS, leaves the customer with no ready path for solving problems with the operating system. In a headlong desire to gain market desire, carriers are offering Android phones at close to the bone pricing, often paying $200.00 for one will get the next one free. Although this short term thinking will generate a rapid growth of market share it may not generate longterm sales if the customer continues have less than acceptable experiences.

Apple has spent an exceptional amount of sweat and toil on the fit and finish of the iPhone. They design the hardware and have it built to exacting standards that they alone control. Apple has exclusively licensed the metal forming techniques of Liquid Metal to improve the weight to sturdiness ratio of its devices. This level of design and manufacturing control appears to not satisfy Apple as it is now rumored that they may be designing and manufacturing their own core processor chips as well.

Apple has not shoe horned an OS into its iPhone like the approach Microsoft took with its Windows mobile nor does it take the twice removed approach of Google Android. Apple designed a full operating system and web browser for its phone device while fine tuning their power usage and performance to the device they design, build and support.

Designing and building a great device, loading it with a fastidiously power consuming and yet high performing operating system, then putting it all into supporting and amplifying retail environment may seem like more than enough but a great story needs to be told well. In this case, Google and its carriers seem to be talking to themselves.

Rather than winning over purchasing customers, Google and Verizon focus on developers. The advertising features a post apocalyptic world of machines. A red, unblinking, electronic eye stares out of the screen while octopus like robot arms swing about and interact with the device’s interface. A swirling miasma of apps spins like atomic particles with an authoritative voice over emphasizes the number of apps while barely mentioning and individual apps or their value to the individual user. None of the ads feature a single human, instead relying on painting a world of HAL 9000s and Terminators. If the plan is to have a North American market of 3.5 million developers instead of a potential market of 400 million mobile device subscribers, then this is an excellent plan.

Apple advertising, prior to the  release of iPhone 4, always focused on individual applications and their power and user convenience, they always featured a human hand using the device, not a robot appendage. Since the release of the new iPhone, the television, web and print advertising has focused on the human interaction with the iPhone. Many of the new television commercials highlight the use of FaceTime. Many in the tech press have misunderstood this strategy as a preoccupation with the technology of FaceTime, mocking its Dick Tracy like appearance and its possible usefulness.

Hard to judge the user uptake of FaceTime at this early date but it does provide an advantage for Apple by showing the use of the iPhone by ordinary people in daily life. A wife breaking the news to her husband that he is about to be a father, a young woman nervously revealing to her boyfriend her daringly short haircut. Or my favorite, an adolescent daughter struggling with growing up and its many embarrassments, being consoled by her father who is trying to make her smile, a smile she finally shares with him that reveals her new braces. These ads are not about FaceTime, the iPhone or technology, they are about people and the moments in their lives. Brilliantly, by making the iPhone a minor but supporting player in their lives, Apple makes the iPhone a star.

It is time for technology companies to understand that this is 2010 and not 1980, 1990 0r 2000. To have a successful technology product or service is to understand that technology is but a means to an end. Technology by itself or with any great focus on itself is of no relevance to customers. Technology has been around a long time, the customer is now savvy enough to realize that the novelty has worn off. Powerful products are useless unless they can be easily understood and immediately used. If a device cannot enhance someone’s life, making it more convenient or less cluttered then the user will have no interest in carrying its weight around.

Finally, the road to success for any technology product, especially smartphones, is an integrated path. The industrial design, operating system, applications, carrier networks, marketing and after market support must all achieve their best, without half efforts or distant responses. Each of these are like stepping stones across a stream, if one is missing the customer will fall in but in this metaphor it is the technology company or product that will be all wet.

Originally published in the Swiss online newspaper,, reedited for WholeThinking.

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