This week’s announcement about the Nexus One superphone from Google brings up a new issue to consider — what exactly is a superphone? But before we consider this, what’s a nexus? The standard definition of “nexus” is “a means of connection,” which certainly describes a phone, but I prefer to believe that Google was thinking of Star Trek (Generations movie) when they named their product, where the Nexus was the name of an energy ribbon that was the gateway to a place where all desires become reality, or at least they seem like reality.
Google’s announcement has termed the Nexus the logical step in creating a device where “cool apps meet a fast, bright and connected computer that fits in your pocket.” How is this different from the “smartphone” concept to make them call this a “superphone”? Semantics aside, will Google make it into the burgeoning mobile phone market relying mostly on their brand name for spreading the word? After all, the phone can only (at this point) be purchased over the web, making it more difficult to assess the feel, screen, display, etc., prior to purchase. True, there are advantages to it over the iPhone and similar products — you can purchase it without a SIM, the basic model is priced lower than most comparable products, and processing power is greater, but it doesn’t appear to be a clearly, over-the-top, absolutely superior product as mobile phones go.
Google needs to have gotten this right the first time. A failure here will be much harder to overcome than the “good old days” of merely having “Android-enabled” phones associated with the Google brand. After all, it is a little late in the day for Google to have finally come out with a phone they are willing to brand as their own and push the envelope on. The iPhone is an established market leader, and a number of other credible competitive smartphones already coexist.
To compete, with the built-in disadvantage of requiring purchasers to buy at a distance, Google will need to offer something that compensates for that inconvenience in a buyer’s mind. For example, if you purchase a computer online rather than going to your local Best Buy, there must be some factor in your mind that makes it worth your while to go through the trouble of ordering online, usually waiting a long time to receive your computer, and facing the potential of returning defective products through a complex process. There must be some perceived added value to such a purchase, whether it be the ability to customize, choose a specific brand, build on the comfort level of previous experience with the brand, etc.
Can the cachet of the Google name provide the advantage that will overcome the inconvenience barrier? Maybe. After all, people did fight over invites to Gmail years ago when the program first appeared, and Google Voice invites have also been at a premium, so there are some who want to be in on the ground floor with all things Google. But for the majority, even if they are die-hard Google users, will they take that extra step when all the other super-smart phones are everywhere and anywhere they shop?
I don’t pretend to know the answer. One thing I am happy about, however, is that Google’s move further into the smartphone (or superphone) business means that they will have increased motivation to improve the mobile advertising side of the business. Step one has already happened — the announcement of AdWords adding a Go Mobile! once-weekly post for the next few months on including mobile ads in your campaign. With Nexus One in the loop, the impetus is there to move ads on to mobile in a credible way more than ever before.
Will the Nexus help fulfill Google’s destiny or, like the Star Trek Nexus, will it turn out that the “reality” that the Nexus presents is an illusion that can’t compare with what real life offers? I just hope no planets are destroyed in the process.