Nexus One: Yawn of a New Day?

Fred Vogelstein over at 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 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.