Can the world's number one search company design and sell a mobile phone to consumers direct via the internet? With the launch of the Nexus One smartphone on January 5, 2010, Google set out to answer that question.

74 days later, we have a reasonable estimate of how many Nexus Ones Google has moved: 135,000. The hard part: answering that first question.

The 74-day mark is notable because, according to mobile analytics firm Flurry, that's how long it took Apple to sell one million iPhones. Apple, of course, has fast become a Google rival, and Apple's lawsuit against HTC directly targets the Nexus One.

Not surprisingly, the fact that Google has moved only 135,000 Nexus One devices has lots of observers calling 'flop'. But I'm not so sure it's that simple. Here's why:

  • Google isn't a hardware company. That's no excuse for a poor showing, but let's put it this way: if the Nexus One faded into oblivion, it wouldn't hurt Google. If Apple, on the other hand, releases a device that doesn't sell, analysts will start screaming that the world is ending.
  • Selling direct-to-consumer model was bound to reduce demand. The Nexus One is sold directly to consumers via the web; it's not sold through carriers like most other phones. That inevitably reduced the size of the Nexus One's potential market right off the bat since many consumers are only realistically going to purchase a phone via carrier. After all, that's the model consumers are used to, and there's less effort involved.
  • Google's gains in mobile should be measured by Android, not the Nexus One. Google's big play in mobile is its operating system, Android. That's where it has the most to gain, and where rivals like Apple have the most to worry about. Android market share rose to 7.1% in the fourth quarter of 2009, up from a mere 2.8% in the previous quarter. Increasingly, Android is making its way onto popular handsets, such as the Motorola Droid, which sold 1.05m units in its first 74 days according to Flurry.

All of this said, 135,000 Nexus One sales certainly isn't going to knock anyone's socks off no matter how well you spin the number. There are valid arguments to be made that Google shouldn't be making smartphones and that it was foolish for Google to pretend that a direct-to-consumer distribution model might even disrupt carriers. I'm critical of many of Google's 'side projects' and think in the aggregate, all of these little distractions are likely to cause the company trouble.

But all those who focus on calling the Nexus One a flop are missing the big picture.

Photo credit: mackarus via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)


George - Planet Anarky

It's an interesting point: I can't help but think there's more to come, though. It feels (perhaps uncharacteristically) shortsighted of Google to assume they'd dominate the handset market with a direct-to-consumer offering. I reckon this is just the tip of the iceberg.

over 8 years ago



Customer service!! Thats what the difference is!  No communication between the potential buyer and google.  T-mobile in a sad way is getting a black eye from this. They can't help in any way.  They say any problems need to be handled with Google but when you try and contact google they send you to the forums.  Very lame!  No help at all!  If you walk into an apple store you get HELP.  You can't do that with Google.  In a way Google is walking down the same road as Microsoft with their customer service and planning.  If you go cheap you will get cheap return.

over 8 years ago

Vincent Amari

Vincent Amari, Online Consultancy at Business Foresights Ltd

Google may be a great company, but IMHO has never been good at selling it's own products and services. So many missed opportunities with the Nexus launch. Potentially would have sold far more than the iPhone.

over 8 years ago



I think whether or not the Nexus One can be considered a flop is dependent on a couple of things:

How do the sales do when they go live on Verizon?

How do the sales do when they go live for international sales (especially in Euro zone and Asia).

How do they do at CS now that the growing pains of the first release are past them?

I've owned the Nexus One for about 45 days and love it, it easily beats out most if not all other smartphones in overall functionality, processor speed (which translates to user experience), daylight camera quality and ability to multitask without freezing. The battery life is a problem, I may need to buy a spare for when I travel.

over 8 years ago

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