Google's Nexus One: It's the Store, Stupid

So on Tuesday, Google did indeed unveil the Nexus One "superphone," and yet life is strangely similar to how it was on Monday.

I did not attend Tuesday's highly anticipated press event, but based on the live blog coverage (as well as the live blog coverage of the live blog coverage), it appears to have been rather a ho-hum affair.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out what Cringely makes of the latest skirmish between Cupertino's and Mountain View's tech heavyweights in "Google takes on Apple" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Cool-looking phone? You bet: thin, light, OLED touch screen, voice-enabled keyboard, whizzy software, yadda yadda yadda. Life changing? Not exactly. Or at least, not any time soon.

As John Stokes of Ars Technica put it, the biggest Google news yesterday was a URL: google.com/phone. That's where U.S. consumers can buy an unlocked Nexus One directly from Google (for a whopping $529), as well as one with a two-year-commitment to T-Mobile (a less whopping $179).

Of course, if you go for the unlocked version your carrier options are still a) T-Mobile or b) AT&T (but only at slower 2G data speeds -- quick, cue up the Verizon "There's a map for that" ads). Those are the only two U.S. carriers that support GSM, the radio built into the Nexus One. Can you imagine any sane person skipping that T-Mobile discount just so they can go for a deal with slow and unsteady AT&T? Me neither. So what you get for your extra $350 is still a little fuzzy at this point.

The question is what happens next. Google says it will serve up a CDMA-based phone that will work on Verizon's network this spring. Nice, but again it's an unlocked phone that's still kinda-sorta locked to one network (unless you only plan to use it as a Wi-Fi device).

What Google is driving at, of course, is a world where cell phones (and really, that name is now wholly outdated) are sold the way personal computers have always been sold: unencumbered by a commitment to a single provider. In other words, no more lock-in -- just pick your phone, choose your carrier, and select your plan, in that order. Theoretically at least, carriers would then have to actually compete for your dollars, thus giving them a greater incentive to provide higher-quality service than they do now.

Sounds great. If there was ever an industry ripe for disrupting, the notoriously unpopular yet massively profitable wireless telecom industry is it. And it would require somebody with Google's cash and cojones to pull it off.

That's why everyone got so lathered up when Google bid for big chunks of the old analog TV spectrum back in '08, in the hopes it would compete directly with the wireless companies. Google didn't win, though -- Verizon did. And I'm willing to bet Verizon is going to take that spectrum and sit on it a good long while in the hopes everyone will forget who owns it.

So I'm hoping the Nexus One Store will prove to be the first step in the Great Wireless Disruption. But freedom won't truly ring until you can buy one phone that works on all the major telecom networks. When Google pulls that off, then we'll talk.

In related notes: The Google announcement really makes me appreciate what a showman Steve Jobs is. This was arguably the most closely watched Google unveiling I can remember. Mostly Google tends to "announce" new products and services by blogging about them. Selling phones directly to consumers is a major shift in its business model, and yet who's out there leading the charge? A trio of relative unknowns. (OK, Andy Rubin is well known among phone wonks. Otherwise, not so much.)

Given the buildup to the announcement, the breathless anticipation among the blogerati, and the timing (right before CES), you'd think instead of Manny, Moe, and Jack we might have seen Eric, Sergey, or Larry, like maybe Google actually considered this a big deal -- apparently not.

As I wrote a few days ago, Google is now battling Apple for world domination. Would Steve Jobs have allowed Apple to deliver such a ho-hum announcement? Not a chance. As they say in Zombieland, it's time for Google to nut up or shut up.

Is Nexus One Store a big deal? And would you buy an unlocked phone if you could still only use it with one network? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This story, "Google's Nexus One: It's the store, stupid," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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