Is Google Serious about Selling Hardware?

Google’s approach to selling devices is beguiling, and although the volume of Android-based devices is impressive, Google seems to be leaving a lot of opportunity on the table by not extending much past code.

I bought a Nexus 4 yesterday. This was my second time to buy Nexus devices from the Google Play store, and it was just as bad as the first time.

My first purchase from the Play Store was a Nexus 7 and Nexus Q on release day: June 29th, 2012. Many things about that purchase were frustrating enough to make me hesitant about recommending it to others.

The email receipt didn’t come promptly, and that lack of communication was worrying to me. Then, there were no updates on shipping. Then, other people began receiving their Nexus 7’s and bragging about it on Twitter. Then, people would go into Staples and buy one. I still hadn’t gotten word.

It turns out that since my order included a Nexus Q, which wasn’t ready, the whole order got held up. Google ended up shipping the Nexus 7 separately from the Nexus Q, and sending me a Nexus Q for free, because it wasn’t ready. Apparently, when the Nexus Q is ready, I’ll be billed and get another one. It’s been five months, and there has been no word on its status. It’s taken long enough to resurrect it that I’m guessing that Google ends up abandoning it.

I finally received my Nexus 7 on September 2nd, but it’s remarkable how the delivery experience shaped my overall satisfaction with the product.

So two and a half months later, I guessed that Google would sort things out. They’re Google. They get things right. They improve things.

On 11/13, I went to the Play store to get a Nexus 4. I went through the order process 3-4 times, and finally got to the confirmation page. It looks like the bumper sold out while it was in my cart, and held up one purchase. I’m guessing that the lack of error handling to account for that messed that one up. I’m guessing that another one actually went through, but the confirmation HTML didn’t post correctly. When I finally got to look at my orders, I had two orders that had gone through. So I cancelled one.

Hopefully the money was refunded correctly.

Hopefully it ships on 11/15 as stated on the receipt. If Amazon were doing the fulfillment, I would have it ON 11/15. Google’s devices has created a strong doubt.

On the “order status” page, there is no estimated ship date. There is no progress indicator. There is no “feedback on this order” option.

All of this points to Google caring about innovate products, but only to the point that they are “developer finished”, as in: “The developer says they’re finished.”

For a successful product launch, products need to be “consumer finished”. That means that consumers need to think that the product is finished, or be persuaded that the product is finished. It needs a communications strategy around communicating that idea.

If Google was good getting products “consumer finished”, device manufacturers and carriers would have their influence squeezed out, and consumers could have better Google-based products.

As it stands, Google leaves most of the packaging and delivery of products up to their partners, rather than being a product provider. Logitech, LG, Vizio, and HTC are product providers.

Google isn’t a product provider.

Google is a platform provider, and they make samples of how that platform may be delivered in product form.

Key parts of how a product is delivered is in the documentation, PR, sales process, fulfillment, retail partnerships, marketing, and ongoing support. Logitech does all of that except for the PR well. Apple does all of it well (Maps rollout excluded).

Since the manufacturers can’t trust Google to provide a finished product, they have to, they take on some of the platform responsibilities as well. HTC,  Motorola, and Samsung all put their own UI on top of Android so they can deliver a consistent experience to their customers, which also serves as a bloat-ware platform.

People like me, who care about getting the latest in the platform improvements, and not having our updates filtered through the Google –> Samsung –> Verizon path, can get Nexus devices directly from Google. But we have to put up with buying them online without a way to interact with them first, or get the pure device subsidized.

And then there are devices like the Nexus Q, which are interesting, and do some things well, but don’t support standard accepted tasks, like Bluetooth streaming, or screen mirroring. Mine is collecting dust while my Logitech Boombox is used all day every day, even though I’d prefer to use the Nexus Q.

And then there’s Google TV, which Logitech lost over $100M on. That device wasn’t finished, didn’t feel finished, but had a TON of potential. Part of the problems was Google’s inability to make partnerships with content providers, and the pipes that deliver that content. They seem to be attacking the problem from a different angle through their product roll out in Kansas City. But Google hasn’t given up on GoogleTV, but their approach is now integrated into TVs, much like Android is integrated into phones that they don’t make.

The end result is that Google creates interesting and powerful software platforms, but seem to leave the delivery of those products up to the grownups who can release them to consumers as finished products. It ends up getting Google software into the hands of many people, but it isn’t executed in a way that Google ends up having as much influence as they could, and consumers end up having confusing affiliations that are watered down.




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