Nexus One: Yawn of a New Day?

| Just a Thought

Fred Vogelstein over at Wired.com wrote a piece about his impressions of Google new wünderphone, Nexus One. In his article, titled Yawn, Google Introduces iPhone Clone, Fred basically called the Google Phone another iPhone and pretty much slammed Google for producing a “me too” phone instead of going the extra bit and making something truly interesting and, more importantly, innovative.

What he wanna do that for?

The avalanche of negative responses was absolutely amazing. People called Fred an Apple shill, a pompous brat, stupid, and it gets worse. According to responders Wired is now resting all cozy in Apple’s pocket, and the iPhone is a “chick phone,” whatever that means.

I don't know Fred Vogelstein. He could be a pompous brat fror all I know. I like Wired.com and while it is possible, I don't believe they are pocketable by anyone, not by Apple anyway. If they were biased in Apple's favor I think I'd stop reading them. I'm biased enough in Apple's favor, thank you very much.

I make no apologies, I am an Apple fan and believe that while the company can make some goofs and stupid mistakes, and can be downright arrogant at times, they are true innovators. Their products set the tone for several industries and, love them or hate them, you can’t ignore them.

Even so, I’m a bigger fan of innovation where ever I find it. I’ve owned several PCs including an HP netbook, which I really enjoyed. If someone comes out with something better than what I use I’d consider buying it regardless of who makes it.

That said, and having read Mr. Vogelstein’s article I have to say that, for the most part, I agree with him. Now, before you start rolling your eyes and writing me off as another fanboy coming to the aid of a compatriot, hear me out.

I agree with Fred Vogelstein’s assessment that Google’s Nexus One is another iPhone because, after you strip away the glitz and the light, that’s pretty much what you have, another iPhone. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Before the iPhone came along there were smartphones, but none of them were accessible to the average joe or soccer mom. You had to be techno-smart to use a smartphone then, and have really good eyes, and know how to get around the occasional techno-roadblocks that often prevented smartphone users from using the smart features of their phones.

Sure you could surf the internet, but doing so meant squinting at a tiny screen and at even tinier webpages that never worked like they did on even the poorest laptops. You could view documents, as long as they were in formats that the OS (usually a Windows Mobile OS until the BlackBerry came along) understood. Movies worked, sometimes, if you had the right app, and if you could find the movie in the right format.

In fact, about the only thing that early smartphone users could consistently depend on working most of the time was email, and even that had problems if there were attachments.

I’m not saying that early smartphones weren’t smart, I’m saying that they were not aimed at the the average person.

Apple changed all of that with the iPhone and with support from iTunes.

Now nearly anyone with the ability to pay the entry fee can reliably perform an increasing variety of tasks while out and about. Movies from iTunes works as advertised, web surfing is almost as functional as from a desktop (as long as you don’t hit a site using Adobe’s Flash) and email is real email with viewable attachments in just about any format.

Before the iPhone screens were tiny little things over tiny little keyboards that were often tough to use. The iPhone’s relatively gargantuan screen made using the device easy on the eyes, and the virtual keyboard, while off-putting initially, made a believer out of many diehard hardware keyboard users.

User interface improvements, simplicity, standardization, I could go on and on about all the things Apple’s iPhone did for the smartphone, but no list would be complete without the apps.

Early smartphones had apps available for them, but getting them and using them was a pain for all but the techno-elite. Apple made apps accessible and potentially profitable for developers and so made them accessible and desirable for users. 3 billion app downloads pretty much proves that it isn’t just the hardware or even the infrastructure that makes the iPhone successful, it’s the whole iPhone environment. It works.

And that is what Google has apparently reproduced with its Nexus One. I say apparently because we don't really know how Google's phone and infrastructure will work until there are a gazillion users on it, but let's just say they've hit a homerun with Nexus One.

Let’s forget about hardware specs, they change with the weather. The Nexus One has great specs, but give Apple, Palm, or even Microsoft some time and they’ll best them. Let’s also ignore for a moment all of the “better than iPhone” features. Again, these can change with a sneeze.

What Google has done is make a fairly decent stab at reproducing the iPhone’s environment. There are apps, an app delivery system, and hardware that works well in this environment. In this way, which I contend is the most important way, Google has made another iPhone, just as Fred Vogelstein asserts.

Google has made an iPhone which, for now, is in many respects better that the iPhone, but there is no real innovation. Google has not advanced the mobile phone industry, or created a whole new marketing environment, or established itself as the bellwether for anything. It has made a “me too” phone, and I'm personally glad for it, and you should be too.

What Google has potentially done is given Apple some real competition. Nexus One will keep Apple on its toes, which will, in turn, force Google and the rest of the industry to keep up, and that spells goodness for us who use any smartphone.

It also offers us a choice, and choice is the best instigator of innovation. For this alone, we can thank Google.

The thing is, we’ve seen this scenario before with the iPod. One after another developer announced devices that they believed would dethrone the iPod. Even Big Redmond tried to knock the iPod off its horse. Only recently has Microsoft produced a device that competes well with the iPod. The problem is, no one cares anymore. Apple has moved on and so has everyone else.

What could Google have done different to make the Nexus One something more than an iPhone? I dunno. Maybe they could have worked with cell phone carriers to promote femtocell technology and voice over IP through the phone. Such a move would have set the industry on its ear, just as the iPhone did when it was released, then Apple would have been in position of making a Nexus One wannabe.

The iPhone/ Nexus One competition may be a real competition, and we may even wind up with two truly equal devices. That’s great and all, but make no mistake, until Google does something that truly alters the smartphone landscape, something more than calling its phone “super”, it will only be a me-too phone maker with a me-too phone. But I mean that in the best way.

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Comments

jimothy

“Chic phone” is probably a reference to ads for the Motorola Droid, a phone which wears its lack of style proudly. Ugly, it seems, is a feature, not an oversight. A real guy doesn’t care about style or attractiveness. This fails to explain men’s attachment to cars, or to women, but these truths will not get in the way of advertising homeliness as an asset.

Yew

Proofreading is your friend, Vern.

jimothy

My comments above notwithstanding, I find the Nexus One stylish, though I’ve yet to see one in person. I guess that also makes it a chic phone. If I were in the market for a non-iPhone (which I’m not), this likely would be the one.

Lee Dronick

?Chic phone? is probably a reference to ads for the Motorola Droid, a phone which wears its lack of style proudly. Ugly, it seems, is a feature, not an oversight.

Some people prefer their smartphone to look like a Soviet version of the CRM 114

wab95

Early smartphones had apps available for them, but getting them and using them was a pain for all but the techno-elite.

Not to mention, expensive. Palm apps for my old Treo (at least scientific/medical) were $30 and above, and often did not work as advertised. iPhone apps have been generally cheaper and work well.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

And here is Guy Kawasaki’s take on this. If you start with the premise that Nexus One is just another iPhone, Guy’s evaluation follows. The Nexus One is incrementally better in many areas, and not quite there in a few. But with lots of different takes on Android coming from many different manufacturers, expect a market to take off. Think of it as China vs. America. There’s room in the world for both. Some people like a single, controlled, ideology. Some people like the unexpected innovation that comes from messiness.

As for Roughly Drafted and it’s contention that Android offers nothing new. So a slew of form factors from phones to tablets to netbooks is “nothing new”. Whatever. Apple alone can’t afford to explore all the form factors where iPhone OS might work. That’s why it’s doomed to be a niche player in the long run in every hardware market it enters.

daemon

I’m a bit surprised to hear that you think the Nexus One is just like the iPhone in every meaningful way and yet you dismiss it’s hardware as being meaningless.

Would you say that the HTC Dream is just like the iPhone in every meaningful way?

Vern Seward

Bosco: I agree on your first point about there being room for all. I’m not sure what you mean in your Roughly Drafted comment, but I disagree that Apple is a niche player in every market it enters. It dominates the PMP market, is a major player in the smartphone market, and is finally getting reasonable market share in the computer market. How is that a niche player? Even with its smaller PC market share it sets the pace for the bigger players. Nothing small time about that.

daemon: I think you may have missed a small point. Hardware isn’t important unless that hardware is important. Sounds like double talk, but what I mean is that unless that hardware does something fundamentally different than what others are doing then it is irrelevant. For instance, before the iPhone everyone insisted on using hardware keyboards, the iPhone came along and changed that fundamentally. Not only did you get a keyboard when you needed it, but you got multi-touch, gestures, and more. The iPhone’s hardware and software changed the game fundamentally.

So, yes, HTC Dream, Palm’s device, Moto’s phones and all the others are emulating the iPhone in any meaningful way.

Vern

wab95

He doesn?t pull any punches and I agree with a lot he has to say.

Thanks, Geoduck. He’s always a good read.

What I’ve noted, even from quarters not normally ‘Apple-friendly’ is a muted reception for both Google’s Android and Microsoft/HP’s ‘slate’ and caution about how they will fare over time, juxtaposed with a relative absence of pronouncing the death of all things Apple. The anticipation over Apple’s response to these latest entries is palpable and pervasive. That industry response underscores Apple’s leadership role.

I hope that these other players continue to put out products that play well in Apple’s space. I concur with others that this is good for Apple and even better for consumers, but it appears that Apple is defining the game.

mhikl

Write on, Vern.
You made me chew over the iPod?s narrative. Seems to me it wasn?t the first MP3 player out the chute. Didn’t it begin its life making riffraff out of the early whittlers; then, as their replicants neared the finish line, didn’t Apple slip into another dimension leaving angst amongst the annoyed. One can only speculate on what next toy our aging wunderkind has lurking in his shorts to infuriate his faithful, tormented naysayers. Me thinks Steve plots to take their wind away.

Cheers,
mhikl

Matt Stanford

Didn?t it begin its life making riffraff out of the early whittlers; then, as their replicants neared the finish line, didn?t Apple slip into another dimension leaving angst amongst the annoyed. One can only speculate on what next toy our aging wunderkind has lurking in his shorts to infuriate his faithful, tormented naysayers. Me thinks Steve plots to take their wind away.

Spot on. Not the first, but definitely the easiest to use in totality.

Innovation with consumer appeal from half a team (where the other half make sure the business works sufficient to fund the next round) will always win.

I remember digging my friend back in the day (pre-conversion) about how dear Apples were (we’re talking 7100 etc here), and how much more PC I could buy for the money; he said “but I don’t want to be a programmer. I just want to sit down and work.”
Apple still seem to understand what’s going to get a consumer interested without finding ways to frustrate them enough to lose patience. What’s amazing is how few others have caught on.

csimmons

@bosco,

70% of the portable music player market != niche player.

Number one in revenue, customer satisfaction and web usage in the smartphone market != niche player

Number one selling notebook computer in the $1000+ demographic != niche player

Number two tech company in net worth (Microsoft being #1) despite having a less than 10% worldwide market share in personal computers != niche player

Shall I go on?

Vern Seward

Proofreading is your friend, Vern.

If you mean this sentence, “What he wanna do that for?” it was done on purpose. It’s a colloquial phrase.

Maybe I shoulda said, “Wha he wanna do dat fo?”

Vern

makuribu

This venture seems to be very poorly thought out by Google. They are now competing against anybody else using their Android OS. Google basically chose HTC as their preferred partner. How does Motorola feel?
They’ve had this phone out in beta testing for a month with employees (and Guy Kawasaki) and yet they still haven’t released an up to date SDK for developers.
And pricing is completely conventional. Tie yourself for 2 years to a plan or pay $500 for an unlocked phone. If they’d wrangled some kind of sweet unlimited data deal with a carrier, they’d at least stand out from the crowd.
For now, your best bet seems to still be a decent quality quad band 3G phone and an iPod Touch. Find free wireless at the coffee shop for your email and use the phone for, like, phone calls.

Joseph Darnell

I agree that the Nexus isn’t innovative. It’s more of the same. And, after watching several videos of the Nexus interface, I have to note the overall flow, animations, colors, and what-have-you are very similar to the feel of iPhones. The keyboard is like that of the iPhone’s (in the vertical position) only the contrast is inverted.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

The keyboard is like that of the iPhone?s (in the vertical position) only the contrast is inverted.

Did you know that developers can replace the keyboard on the Nexus One (or any Android phone) with something that might be more innovative or more to your taste, such as a typing by dragging your fingers around the letters? The equivalent on the iPhone is a special app that you type in, then copy and paste when you switch back to the app you’re working in. I suppose the iPhone is more innovative for not letting users choose their keyboards.

ctopher

If choosing keyboards and file systems and gpu and storage are your bag, get one of those highly configurable android phones.

But if you want to chat, play games, surf the web and read e-mail, then an iPhone is a good choice.

I don’t think the AO (Android Onslaught) will occur just because you can change basic services in a global manner. Not enough people care about it. (IMHO).

Apple is going for the lowest common denominator when it comes to well healed customers. Seems to have worked so far.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@ctopher… As I said above, different strokes for different folks. Assuming that Windows CE, Symbian, webOS, etc. are small niches, iPhone OS and Android will split the rest somewhere between 20/80 and 80/20. My bet is that a year from now, it will be closer to 20/80 with Android in the lead. The main differentiator is level of control by the vendor. Apple’s trend is to maximize this. Google’s trend is to minimize this. Each approach has advantages to different camps. Those advantages to one camp are clear disadvantages to the other camp. Saying that one is better simply reveals your own priorities and values. In criticizing the Apple approach and extolling the Google approach, I realize that. I have walked and continue to walk in both shoes. I do notice that a lot of criticism of the Google approach fails or refuses to recognize that difference of approach.

For me, as a long time Apple customer, the latest Apple trend toward control of what the user can do is just bass-ackwards. Apple has always been about opening possibilities and letting users do what they like. With the iPhone, it lets users do what Steve likes. Which is fine if you like what Steve likes or want to be told what to like by Steve.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@ctopher… Speaking of replacing keyboards, how silly is this? You can connect the iPhone to it, but can’t type in other apps. That’s just lame.

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