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  • More Uncritical Media Assumptions

    January 12th, 2010

    You just knew when Google introduced the Nexus One that it had to be the ultimate iPhone killer. After all, it was Google, and the Android platform is new and sexy. Well, anyway it’s new, so it just has to succeed.

    The reality appears to be something else again. The Nexus One is a rebadged HTC phone, in the tradition of what Microsoft did when it used a Toshiba digital media player and transformed it into the Zune. That hardly makes the Nexus One brand new, but it also appears that Google is coming to realize that you can’t become a consumer electronics powerhouse overnight.

    What happens, for example, if you need tech support? Google doesn’t have a credible reputation for customer service, and customers are also being sent to HTC or T-Mobile, the lone carrier supporting the device so far. Or just wait a few days and hope for an email response. A company can’t build a support infrastructure overnight, so it may take painful months to sort things out, which leaves early adopters in the lurch.

    Then there’s the issue of early termination. If you’re paying $529 for an unlocked device, you presume that’s the list price. But after the initial 14-day return period, if you decide to sent the product back, you’re going to be saddled with a $350 Equipment Recovery Fee during the first four months. Add that to the $200 termination fee from T-Mobile during the same period if you cancel your wireless contract, and you can see how the Nexus One becomes really expensive really fast.

    Worse, by selling an “official” Android phone, Google is conveying the impression that they are throwing their other hardware partners under the bus. What about Motorola, which has achieved some success with the Droid? Oh yes, they’re with Verizon Wireless, but isn’t there going to be a Verizon version of the Nexus One some day soon?

    It appears here that Google may be falling into the same trap as Microsoft when the Zune came out. Despite assurances that the existing PlaysForSure partners wouldn’t be impacted, the Zune simply cannibalized sales from those products. The impact to Apple’s iPod was little to none. You would think Google would learn the nasty lessons of history, but things aren’t that simple. As I said, Google is new to the consumer electronics world and there’s a lot to learn, and plenty of mistakes will be made along the way.

    True, Apple was also a novice when it came to building and selling smartphones. But the company also had over three decades of experience as a consumer electronics manufacturer. They have made loads of mistakes over the years, and presumably learned from most of them. They also have a roster of skilled marketing executives that know how to assess a market, stake out territory and sell loads of profitable gadgets.

    Where is Google’s expertise or do you assume they will be successful because they are large and the company’s name has become a verb for searching the Internet?

    That takes us to the rumored Apple tablet computer. This week at the CES, several PC makers decided to stage preëmptive strikes and release their own competing products. What’s lost in this discussion is the fact that tablet computers have been available for years. Rather than revolutionize the industry, they have found a decent niche in vertical markets, such as medical offices. The tablet for the masses is the dream that has yet to be realized, and there’s no guarantee Apple can change things.

    On the other hand, the unexpected success of the iPhone and the fact that Apple managed to withstand the global economic meltdown better than most companies have made the company seem invulnerable. Other than rumors of a 10.1-inch screen, nobody knows what form this product will take? Will there be a large vertical keyboard, a smaller version sized similarly to the one on the iPhone, or even a physical keyboard reminiscent of Apple’s grown-up Newton handheld device, the eMate 300? Or maybe there will be some sort of handwriting recognition system where you let your fingers do the writing. What about voice recognition?

    Some suggest that the iSlate, or whatever it’ll be called, will sport a hybrid operating system that supports not just iPhone apps, but regular Mac OS X apps as well. If true, this gadget might become a credible replacement for a note-book for many potential customers, although I’m still on the fence as the best way to implement a text entry season.

    As I’ve already said, I’m not at all certain that I have a place for a tablet computer in my gadget tool bag. I also suspect there are loads of people out there who are equally skeptical. But I don’t think Apple wants another Cube on its hands. The stakes are much higher now, which may explain why this product has germinated for a number of years.

    The media expects Apple to succeed. That’s a huge change from the time when skeptical voices ruled the day. But there’s still that annoying tendency to look at any potentially credible competitor as a genuine “killer” product of one sort or another. This is why the Nexus One has gotten so much favorable press, even though it’s not so different from existing gear and has lots of problems that aren’t directly related to whether the product is good or bad or somewhere in between.



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