If I’m Google I’m trying to put this Nexus 4 debacle behind me as soon as possible. Though the Android phone – sold unlocked direct via the Google Play Store — has received generally positive reviews, and is in a state of perpetual stock out, the launch late last year was anything but a textbook example of how to launch a product and ingratiate your customers. It’s slightly bizarre to think that a successful company like Google would invest so much money in marketing and PR, only to make available a phone that is not available. To many who were unable to score a Nexus 4 during the frustrating online ordering process on Google Play (refresh, refresh, still sold out, refresh refresh, error, F5, F5, ah it’s available! checkout where did it go, my cart’s empty?! close tab, head to apple.com), the debacle might even seem like a hoax. I mean, does the Nexus 4 really exist, or are those some other phone’s photos?
Now there’s finger pointing – though, as we’re learning, cordial finger pointing (the worst kind). LG, maker of the Nexus smartphone this time around, is blaming Google for poor sales predictions and planning. Google meanwhile says it’s all LG’s fault that there’s no Nexus 4 Androids in stock.
Google for its part continues to stub its toe when it comes to effectively managing its consumer business.
Yes, Android is terrific, a game changer. Yes, Android apps have mostly caught up to their iOS counterparts. And, yes, with Google Glass and self-driving cars, the company appears to be a hotbed of innovation the likes we haven’t seen, well… since six years ago when an in-the-zone CEO named Steve Jobs launched a little device called the iPhone that would change everything. But, Google, for the love of Siri please – please! – spend some quality time with folks who know a thing or two about selling direct to consumers – maybe headhunt someone from Amazon, or possibly buy copies of Randel’s The Skinny on Direct Sales: Your first 100 days for anyone involved in the devices section of Google Play, or at the very least go on several dates with Irene Rosenfeld, after all we consumers love Mac and Cheese, and buying an Android phone should be at least three-times as pleasurable. Or perhaps just pull up apple.com and test the order process there. The Apple store will tell you if something is out of stock (just like Google Play), but it will also give you an ETA (unlike Google Play) – better yet, Apple will still gladly take your money despite a stock out (unlike Google Play) exactly when you’ve succumbed to weeks of lust and finally admitted you’re going to buy this white iPhone so you might as well do it now already.
So, what’s Nexus for Google Android?
The great news is that in tech is there’s always the next version.
Change a version number (to 5.0) and a name (to Key Lime Pie) and you’ve got yourself a whole new ball game, sparkling with new features. Yes, I’ll be first in line of course. And so will thousands of others who will receive an Android swag bag at Google I/O loaded this May with preview bits.
Odds are we’ll see a Nexus 5, maybe a Google X phone of some kind. All will feature faster processors, higher resolution screens. No one knows if LG will still be in the game, though it sounds like they’re in it for the long run. Samsung, Sony, HTC could be candidates to build one or more Nexus devices. Or Google could turn to Asus again, like it did for the Nexus 7 tablet. And at some point you’ve got to think that Google will finally unleash some kind of whiz-bang device courtesy of its own Motorola Mobility division.
All of the above is largely the easy part.
What Google, a company incredibly deep in engineering talent and out-of-the-box thinkers, really needs this year is a consumer first mentality when it comes to the experience of buying a mobile device on Google Play. Granted, the company has come a long way since its mis-steps when it began selling the Nexus One direct in 2010. And though I used to complain that the Android Market as it was called back then was like walking through a bad neighborhood (and today there’s still some concern over malware) it too has seen quantum improvement, so much so that I’d just about put it on par with Apple iTunes. Google is ferocious when it comes to getting things right… over time.
Here’s just a few things Google ought to think about and/or get right next time around with Nexus (and possibly an X device?):
1. When you announce a time something (like the Nexus 4) will goes on sale, don’t fool everyone and start selling it earlier.
2. Take the money! Even if you experience stock outs, give an ETA, ring up the sale, and go from there (see Apple).
3. Make enough phones, and work jointly with your manufacturing partner on the planning process.
4. Consider leveraging your billion dollar acquisition — you know, the one that used to make really great phones like the RAZR and RAZR Maxx…
5. Let’s face it, Nexus is a really geeky name and brand (then again, so was Droid). I like it. But will it really woo potential iPhone buyers?
6. Do keep focusing on unlocked devices.
7. Do continue to pilot and roll-out high speed broadband – there’s something more than meets the eye here.
8. Google Now is a secret weapon.
10. Battery life please!
Bonus: As much as I love bumpers, feel free to offer real accessories (say, a car dock, charging pad) with the Nexus 5.