The news that the Google Nexus One phone has shipped only 135,000 units since its launch 74 days ago got me thinking about what else Google has launched in the last few months, and where it all went wrong…
But first, the Nexus One, although Googlephone seems to be the moniker it’s been stuck with.
The smartphone market seems to me to be divided not by features or performance, but by people’s personalities and how that makes them anthropomorphise their gadgets. There is also a significant bandwagon factor.
At the moment the market seems pretty much sewn up by the RIM Blackberry with it’s “I mean business, and I will not tolerate frivolity” keyboard, and the Apple iPhone, with it’s “I’m from Apple and therefore I’m fun and cool” looks and user interface. Personally I would never choose an iPhone, because I don’t like the way that Apple locks you in to all sorts of after-sales content such as apps and music, but for a lot of people I suspect that doesn’t enter into it – they look for something that they think “suits” them, or something their friends have.
It’s also worth pointing out that both Apple and RIM have invested quite heavily in marketing, advertising and product placement.
Then here comes Google, pushing a new smartphone onto this rather emotionally-led market, with virtually no marketing effort after the launch hype, and a less than catchy product name. It may be as good as other smartphones, it may be better value, it may run open source software, but unless Google promote it in the same way that Apple promotes the iPhone, it’s no surprise that sales are terrible (and out of that 135,000, a significant percentage will have been employee purchases and launch freebies).
To summarise, marketing fail.
Remember Google Wave? That amazing, paradigm-shifting, seriously hyped, collaborative email-slash-IM hybrid? Do you know anyone who actually uses it? And I mean on a daily basis, to actually do stuff with, rather than just playing around with it to see what it does.
Like many people, particularly those in the tech world, I got myself an invite after it was launched, and explored it a bit along with friends and acquaintances who were also interested. My findings? It was slow. And I mean slow. It could take over a minute for the main screen to become ready. It was also very buggy and would lock up frequently. And the user interface wasn’t at all intuitive, compared to something like Gmail. To be fair, it was in preview, and it may have improved since then. But that experience didn’t make me want to persevere with it.
And, to be honest, I found that it confused me.
With email, you know it’s not real-time. You know that when you send a message, it will appear in the recipient’s inbox, and they may then reply if they choose. The reply may be quick, if they’re online at the time, or it may take longer if they’re not. But the reply is a separate document which starts the whole process once again.
With instant messaging, you know the person you want to talk to is online, because you can see it in the software. You can send a short message and have a reasonable expectation of a quick, short reply.
Do you see what I mean? You pick the tool depending on what you’re trying to achieve. If your aim is correspondence, you’ll use email. If your aim is conversation, you’ll use IM.
But Wave is trying to be both and ultimately ends up being neither. When you start typing in Wave, you don’t know whether any of the other people linked to that particular wave is online and viewing it, in which case you might suddenly see them typing in it, or not, in which case they’ll respond later. So how do you style what you’re writing? Do you make it conversational or formal? Do you use it when you need a quick answer, or only when you need a record of the interaction?
To summarise, research fail (and launched before it was ready).
What is Google Buzz? Well, it’s kind of Twitter, but with the ability to include multimedia. Fair enough. It seems to work OK, though Twitter works fine for most people. But that isn’t the point I wanted to make.
When Buzz was launched to Gmail users, it was set up in such a way that if you enabled it, anyone could see your most frequently contacted Gmail contacts by default. This may seem like not a big deal on the face of it, but there are plenty of situations where you would definitely not want that to happen. Here are some articles on the subject that are well worth reading:
Google committed a serious breach of trust when they designed the Buzz activation process in this way – a breach of trust that led me and countless others to permanently deactivate and hide Buzz from my Google account.
To summarise, customer respect fail.
And if I summarise my summaries, it all boils down to Google not understanding the market, which is quite a surprise. With the Nexus One, they failed to understand that you have to make people desire a phone. With Wave, they failed to understand why people use email and why they use IM. And with Buzz, they failed to understand how people use Gmail and how valuable their privacy is.