Press and analysts who convened at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters for the Nexus One launch event Jan. 5 got a special treat after the show proceedings wrapped: a free, unlocked Nexus One GSM smartphone.
The Nexus One is an HTC-made smartphone fitted with Android 2.1 operating system, and loads of snazzy software features, such as the ability to enter text into e-mail, Facebook and other fields just by speaking.
The rest of the world cannot go to a store and but the Nexus One. Consumers must buy the phone from Google’s Web store here unlocked for $529, or pay $179 with a two-year service contract from T-Mobile.
This smartphone-as-a-service (call it the new SAAS) strategy is something of a new SAAS model for Google, though it follows models from Dell and Amazon.com.
eWEEK caught up via phone with Gartner’s Ken Dulaney and Forrester Research’s Charles Golvin, two leading industry analysts who attended the event and left with free Nexus One devices.
Just hours after the event, Dulaney praised the device:
““It’s an excellent device. I think it will compare favorably from a hardware standpoint with the iPhone. It’s got a tremendous screen, a good form factor. Maybe about the only downside I would see is the trackball. The reason RIM went away from it is that it tends to collect dust and get a bit sticky. But that’s not a big deal. The screen is big and beautiful. The camera is great. The performance is great, there’s a lot of good apps in there.”“
So, how does it stack up against the Motorola Droid, the device with which Engadget compared the Nexus One. Dulaney added:
““I would say that if you have a Droid and a Nexus One next to each other at a Verizon store, the Nexus One gets the bulk of the business. Motorola went with the keyboard and the keyboard typically appeals to the lower end consumer who spends a lot of time in text because when you go from phone mode to text mode you’re always closing the keyboard, switching it back into portrait mode. There’s a lot of mechanics there that don’t make sense if you’re balanced between voice and text.”“
However, Dulaney said the Droid will be fine because it could be six months before the Nexus One shows up on Verizon’s network, giving the Droid the traditional kicker that any phone has to sell.
He also said Verizon desperately needs the Nexus One because they need an Apple iPhone lookalike to keep subscribers from going to AT&T for the hallowed iPhone experience.
Dulaney and Golvin Mull Googles SAAS Plan
Speaking of which, how does Nexus One compare to the iPhone? Dulaney was cautious: “Apple still has its cachet. They’ve got advertising, services, hardware, software, and 100,000 apps all put together. [The Nexus One] is the first piece of hardware that competes favorably against the iPhone. The software is very good, but in terms of the way people will think about it, it’s not quite up to where Apple is today.”
In any case, Dulaney said that he projects $525 million will be spent on smartphones by 2012, leaving plenty of selling opportunities for phone makers.
Forrester’s Golvin said that the Nexus One surpasses the Droid as the premier Android device, and while he was appreciative of the live wallpaper “eye candy” the voice-enabled text input was the real winner for him.
““We’ve talked for a long time about the power of voice as an interface and waiting for it to be realized and I think Google has gone a long way toward realizing that, while other have only gone part way,” Golvin said. “I think people who are craving a new device and want the latest and greatest Android, and don’t mind T-Mobile as a carrier are going to be really happy and they’re going to get some good sales out of it.”“
He also noted that while device is far superior to previous Android devices, it’s “ludicrous to talk about anything being an iPhone killer because the iPhone is a really, really good device and people have a lot of loyalty to Apple and the iPhone. But the Nexus One can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the iPhone.”
One thing Golvin and Dulaney wonder about is whether Google’s gamble that consumers will buy phones from them “site unfelt” will pay off. Consumers can drop by any AT&T store and sample the iPhone, or go to a Verizon Wireless outlet to put the Droid to the test. Not so with the Nexus One, at least not yet.
Google officials at the launch indicated they didn’t believe they would need to offer the device in retail stores. But if there is one thing Google executives are known for, it’s never say never.
Will consumers cotton to Google’s SAAS (smartphone as a service) model and purchase phones without the ability to play with the device?
““I think today people really want to go into a retailer and feel the device and play with it and get that comfort, knowing there’s a two-year commitment ahead of them,” Golvin said. “Are they right in that belief that just like people buy all kinds of other stuff online without hefting them, is that going to be true for phones in the future. The world is moving that way; I’m just not sure how fast it’s moving.” “
Dulaney acknowledged that this would be a challenge: “The real question here is how comfortable are people going to be buying phones on the Internet, potentially without seeing them (in person). The hardware has evolved to a state where there aren’t fundamentally a lot of different designs. We may be at a point where buying phones online is a reality.”
eWEEK is also curious. What do readers think about Google’s Web store model? Will it fly or go dry?