Google’s Nexus One: Hit of the Year or Flash in the Pan?

Posted by Rob Enderle

The Google Nexus one drops into a very interesting window.  By any measure it is as big a potential hit as the Palm Pre was at CES last but then the excitement pretty much died out for the Palm Pre and while it was likely the hottest phone Sprint had in 2009, we’re talking Sprint, so that didn’t mean much. 

Turns out it didn’t really bother Steve Jobs that much.  CES is expected to be the mother of all shows for a new, also Android based, form factor the tablet and shortly thereafter the Apple iSlate should be announced any one of which could steal the Nexus’ thunder and, mid-year, the 4th generation iPhone should launch possibly on more attractive (and this wouldn’t be hard) carriers in the US than AT&T is.    So this could be a very short run for the Nexus One, let’s explore that. 

Nexus One:  Game Changer
The Nexus One is a solid phone effort with a beautiful display, a better camera (including LED light source), a better hardware platform in the Qualcomm Snapdragon which is multi-carrier and fast, and a removable battery.  In addition the Google Application Store while not as large in inventory isn’t as restrictive as Apple’s (the approval process is less convoluted), has a removable battery, and the phone works better on the web (actually supports Flash which the iPhone does not) and ties in better with a variety of Google web services.  

In effect it is more of an anti-iPhone than even the Droid is (with the exception of the keyboard) and that is saying a lot.    This phone is also a showcase for the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform and much of the advantage the device has in performance and flexibility comes from them.  

It also appears to be the Stalking Horse for the Obama FCC effort to force the US carriers to shift away from their anti-competitive subsidy model and towards a more European model where users get more freedom to change carriers.   This last is likely the one aspect of this phone that, regardless of its success, could make it legendary. 

The initial exposure for Google is whether they can build the kind of demand Apple traditionally builds for their key products.   This was Palm’s problem and Palm had a better marketing team than Google has yet fielded.  (The Droid is marketed by Verizon not Google). 

Small Window
At CES there are a massive number of alternative devices launching that fall under the Smart-Tablet and Smartbook category.  Most of these also run Android so, if they win, Google wins regardless but most of these have cell phone capability and will explore just how large a phone we want to carry.  Realize that until the iPhone launched phones in the iPhone’s size class were failures suggesting that this market could actually like a larger size device if it was presented properly.

Of course this brings us to the iSlate which at 10” redefines just how big a phone could be and Apple could change the market much like they did with the iPhone with the iSlate.    But 10” is big, not very portable (at least in phone terms) and this device could also be the biggest flop Apple has brought out since Apple TV.   Betting against Apple is never wise but they are taking one hell of a bet with this device and given the number of hits they have had are likely do for a big miss. 

Still if they do hit this device could also change the market and render all of the known Android products obsolete which kind of positions the iSlate as an anti-Google product as much as the Nexus One is an anti-iPhone offering.

Midyear we should see the 4th generation iPhone and even if the Nexus One holds against the iSlate, a Google platform product will need to hold against a really pissed off Apple that will want its market back.   (Reminds me of a Meatloaf Song:  I want my Market Back!)  Steve Jobs is still there and he is still a giant in this segment. 

Wrapping Up:  Can Google Win the Mother of All Battles?
This is starting out to be the most contentious January I can remember.  Last year the Palm Pre stole CES and then Palm failed to execute and the year prior Apple stole CES and executed incredibly well but this year we have Smart Tablets, Smartbooks, and the Nexus One and, after the show, the iSlate.   This takes us from defined simple battles to a technology food fight.   Granted, for folks like me who are paid to simplify the complex this is both wonderful from a revenue standpoint and really bad for any hope of time off.  

But this is potentially Google’s year to prove they are more than just a search vendor, if they hit the market will never be the same and Apple will be on a downward path from their best year ever.  If they miss, Google will increasingly look like they have peaked (and we missed it) making their own future less certain.   A lot rides on this month for both Google and Apple, Google has the edge, but they lack the marketing skill that would assure their success.   That skill may remain Apple’s one sustaining ace in the hole.