When Sprint (S) this week announced it would not offer Google's (GOOG) Nexus One phone, it sparked plenty of speculation that the news -- coupled with Verizon Wireless's (VZ) recent decision to drop the phone -- represents a serious blow to the tech giant's mobile plans. But that opinion fundamentally misunderstands the role of the Nexus One in the company's broader mobile campaign.
As with many of Google's projects, the real strategic value of the Nexus One is not so much the product itself, but rather the influence that Google hopes the device will have on the nature and structure of the mobile market. Take Google's pilot program to offer super-fast high-speed Internet access, which is designed to nudge broadband providers to accelerate U.S. broadband speeds.
Likewise, the Nexus One is designed to test alternative methods of selling mobile phones, as well as to serve as an Android laboratory. Perhaps most importantly, it's designed to raise the profile of Android and to pressure carriers into supporting the operating system.
All About Android
People who focus on the Nexus One's performance as a gauge to measure Google's mobile success are missing the big picture, which is Google's remarkable emergence as a mobile powerhouse over the last year. Today, there are more than 30 Android devices on a host of carriers. And as of February, Google said Android was shipping on 60,000 handsets per day.
Would Google be happier if Sprint and Verizon offered the Nexus One? Of course. But far more important to the tech giant is the overall adoption of the Android operating system and the development of an application ecosystem, both of which are proceeding apace.
As Mark Murphy over at NetworkWorld points out, "Google is an unconventional company, and Android is an unconventional initiative. Measuring the Nexus One by conventional measures, therefore, may miss the point of what Google was trying to achieve."
"I feel that part of Google's objective was to take another step towards educating Americans that, with the right choice of carrier, you are not locked to that carrier's handsets," Murphy writes. "This, of course, will be quite an uphill climb, due to technical barriers as well as the effort in evangelizing this concept to tens of millions of mobile device users."
A Greater Cause
It's an uphill climb indeed, but it's also worthwhile. Consumer choice, platform openness and device portability have been key components of the Open Handset Alliance, of which Google is a key member. With its mobile efforts, what Google is trying to do is demonstrate that there is a different, better way for the U.S. mobile market to operate.
From the beginning, Google made it clear that it wanted to give consumers an alternative to the traditional model of buying a heavily subsidized phone with a plan that locks you into one carrier for two years. That's why the device is so expensive -- $529 without a two year subscription.
All things considered, the fact that Google has been able to sell several hundred thousand units of the Nexus One is fairly impressive, though the sales figures are obviously far smaller than those of other popular devices. But as IDC analyst Ramon Llamas tells eWeek, "selling millions of units was not Google's end game. It was to help champion the Android platform and experience."
If you keep in mind that the Nexus One is not an end, in and of itself, but rather a means to an end, which is the development and proliferation of Android, it's hard not to give Google some credit.
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