Has Google bitten off more than they can chew with the Nexus One smartphone?
Let me catch you up a bit on what is fast becoming the biggest news in the smartphone world. The Nexus One is the codename for Google’s latest Android device. It’s a touchscreen device sporting a massive 800×480 pixel 3.7 inch screen, a 5MP auto-focus camera, 512MB on board memory (plus a micro-SD slot), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HSDPA/HSUPA fast data systems, voice to text feature (for those of us who hate touchscreen typing), a 1GHz processor running the Android operating system at version 2.1 and a kitchen sink. So far, so meeting the standard for a powerful smartphone, but that’s not what’s making waves in the industry. The thing that has got everyone sitting up and taking notice is that Google have decided to primarily sell the phone SIM-free, bypassing the networks and their restrictive contracts and custom firmware obligations that manufacturers have thrust upon them, and have set a competitive 200-300 Euro price on it.
It’s almost unheard of for a phone company to do this, especially with a big product release like the Nexus One, yet still Google are taking things further than just selling the phone SIM-free. The company has specified that, while users can put any SIM card they want into the device and start using it, they’ve setting the phone up to primarily work over Wi-Fi, with calls being made via VOIP systems such as Skype. This is a big blow to the networks as it means that the phone can be used entirely without them having any involvement and, more importantly, without them making any money. More than once a company has released a phone that bypasses the network completely, but these were always designed to be used with a SIM-card and most of them were from new start-ups whose enterprise usually failed. But none of those companies were Google, and in this case that’s an important factor to take into consideration. Google is massive. I doubt there’s anyone in the world who hasn’t heard of that company, and it’s because of this that Android gained such a massive following so quickly (it helps that it’s a very competent operating system, but only techies really care about that). Google’s name carries weight, and also more than a little money. Where normally the networks would do their best to bully and cajole the company into putting it’s phone on their networks, Google actually has enough money to laugh at their efforts, and enough of a well-known brand to be able to succeed without needing to bow down to the networks themselves.
I have to wonder if it was Google’s plan all along to go for a two-pronged attack on the mobile world – first cosying up to the networks for a year or so until word had spread about Android, then to start releasing their own branded versions of Android exclusively without a network contract while still allowing others to release Android models through the networks? All the current evidence seems to point that way, and I can’t help but wonder how other manufacturers will react if this succeeds, and if they too will start bypassing the networks who’ve held entirely too much power for far too long.
I started this post by asking if Google has bitten off more than they can chew with the Nexus One but I’ll end it by wondering this: have the mobile networks bitten off more than they can chew with Google?