Monday, February 8, 2010

The "Problem" With Nexus One is the Retail Packaging, Not the Phone

By some accounts, the Google Nexus One phone has not sold as many units as some might have hoped. Flurry, a mobile analytics firm, estimates that 20,000 Nexus Ones were sold in the first week. That tracks poorly compared to the myTouch3G, which sold up to 60,000, and the Motorola Droid, which sold 250,000 in the first week.

Some people really like the idea of "unlocked" phones, despite the full retail price, as the price of gaining freedom to use "any" carrier (in the U.S. market two of four major carriers). But so far, most U.S. consumers seem to prefer the old "closed" model, where they get discounts on devices in exchange for contracts.

Beyond that, there is the clumsy customer support process. Users can email Google and get an answer within 48 hours. I don't know about you, but if any service provider took that long to get back to me when I have a problem, they will not be my service provider much longer than that. I can easily find a replacement provider within two days.

But that's the problem with Google's current model. With the current model, a customer contacts Google, and hopes the problem is not something the carrier (T-Mobile) or HTC (the device manufacturer) has to fix.

That's no slam on the device. But the customer interface is wrong. People are used to buying from one retailer that "owns" the customer service responsibility. And people will not be happy with two termination fees for early cancellation of a contract--one charged by T-Mobile USA and a separate restocking fee levied by Google.

Ignoring the amount of the fee and the logic, that's just going to make people mad. People generally understand the early termination fee. But they don't expect to pay twice.

Unlocked phones have sold better in Europe, but there is a huge difference between the U.S. market and Europe. In Europe, when one buys an unlocked device at full price, it really does work on all networks. In the United States, Verizon and Sprint use the CDMA air interface while AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM air interface.

So an unlocked phone will only work on half of those networks. Under such conditions, the value of an unlocked phone is dramatically reduced. But most consumers don't really care about air interface or "locking."

They are used to a retail relationship where they know who owns the product and process. And there still is not much evidence to indicate the value of an unlocked, full retail device is more important than the comfort of knowing who is responsible when something doesn't work properly.

Despite the generally-accepted wisdom that "open" ecosystems innovate faster (which is true), that doesn't mean customer experience is better. As Apple has shown time and again, a closed, tightly-integrated approach can produce a much-better experience and lots of innovation at the same time.

So far, it doesn't appear the unlocked Nexus One model is doing that.

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