Google.com/phone Is Dead! Long Live The Mobile Operator

Back at the beginning of this year, Google’s launch of the Nexus One sent shockwaves around the industry. Mobile operators were quaking in their boots. Quaking, I tell you. Not because of the Nexus One’s market leading features, no. But because of the manner in which Google decided to sell the device: Direct to the public via www.google.com/phone. It had the potential to completely change the game as I noted in my post, The new way to purchase your mobile phone.

How times change. I posted that on the 5th of January. Four months later, Google’s direct-to-customer plans were in tatters on the floor with their admission that they’d screwed it all up royally.

Representatives of mobile operators from across the planet were calling me with their concerns, wondering what I thought. They were panicking about the very clear danger of whole segments of their customer base migrating to a beautiful google.com/phone experience and simply treating their operator as a pipe. Dumb or not, the concept behind google.com/phone deliberately made the operator an also-ran semi-irrelevance in the transaction. How many consumers, drawn by the promise of the Nexus One and the ‘Google Experience’ would churn to deliver their loyalty first to Google and then second to the operator? It was a very real issue that had many in the industry frothing at the mouth with concern.

But then reality hit Google in the form of consumers wanting stuff. All of a sudden, Google — the multi-billion dollar giant that had never handled anything physical beyond hiring a really good Chef — was having to deal with screw-up after screw-up. Reader Patrick contributed to the short post I did on Friday explaining that, “A friend of mine in South Africa got his handset shipped to Serbia.”

Not good. It didn’t end there for Patrick. He’s got another friend in Singapore who had his Nexus One delivered by mistake to somewhere in Europe.

Not good at all.

What were Google thinking? When you sell someone a $600 handset, you do need to make sure it arrives. Ideally in the same country. At the same address as the billing statement too. I wonder if Google thought they’d sell 100 units in total and that they’d simply address the deliveries by hand and ship them using the Google UPS account?

The moment these kind of crazy stories began hitting the web, mobile operators around the planet began sleeping easier. One thing mobile operators can do is manage tens of millions of customers without breaking a sweat.

Google’s announcement last week closed the box on the google.com/phone endeavour so if you’d like to get hold of a Nexus One, the chances are, you’ll shortly be able to get the device from your favourite operator. You can pick one up right now free on a £35/month 2-year deal from Vodafone UK.

I’m disappointed that Google didn’t sort out the problems and stick to their original plan. The company has — you imagine — substantial resource at it’s fingertips to make sure this kind of thing could be done effectively. It would have been really interesting to see what kind of integration Google could have done with the mobile operators. Could I, for example, have been able to login to my google.com/phone account to check my minutes and change my price plan? Could I buy a ‘world account’ upgrade from Google for my Nexus One to give me unlimited global data usage for $150/month on top of my standard contract fees? It’d have really liked to have seen some dramatically cool innovation. Google, together with Apple, could really have changed the dynamic of the marketplace.

For now, though, it’s one less thing to worry about for the mobile operators.

What a shame, Google. What a real shame.

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  • Patrick

    A (as always) good piece of writing there, Ewan. I am somewhat not quite convinced that the Giant among Giants; Google with capital G and so on, never saw it coming (it=various skilled consumers with demands) when launching this. Or to write it out blunt, what the heck were they thinking?

    If a cartel from Columbia manages to take care of “business”, surely should Google.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Excellent comment!

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Excellent comment!

  • http://twitter.com/jamesparton James Parton

    Ewan, your headline links nicely to a blog post I wrote back in November about the role of the Mobile Operator in the App Economy, here: http://www.ibegyourparton.co.uk/2009/11/23/what-role-can-the-mobile-operator-play-in-developer-ecosystem-part-2/.

    I’m acutely aware that many dislike Operators, many for good reason, but if we want to grow and take the industry to the “mass market” Operators have made the investments in customer service, retail, marketing to make this a reality for all. They just need to point themselves in the right direction, which is the next challenge!

  • MobiEntrepreneur

    Google has no experience in the “Atoms” business nor of close customer relationships with low-value account, this aside did they not look at lessons in the road crashes amongst vendors that tried to sell direct and successes of Apple, Nokia, Motorola etc?
    I find it inconceivable that they did not consider their own personal experiences as mobile phone and gadget consumers!
    Maybe they are all just to smart in the Googleplex . They should consider hiring and listening to mere mortals if they want to get into consumer business.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Excellent points James!

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    I'm surprised they gave it, what, 3-4 months before admitting defeat and moving on.

  • http://www.searchengineoptimisation.com Phil

    I also was doubtful on google mobile success, it will be success but need to adopt the industry, mobile is not algo which is controlled by google

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