I don’t get Nexus One,
the Google phone. It seems like an expression of terrible ambivalence. All these expectations, all these competitive impulses, so they had to do something. But then, what?
The word that developed—the word Google let develop—was that the company had something in the works that would, in a stroke, challenge the proprietary philosophy of Apple’s iPhone, and enable a constant, ubiquitous, ever-deepening connection to the information stream. The phone would be the next elemental link in the development of real-time media, the revolution of our time (or, anyway, of the moment). But instead it’s a what…? Just an iPhonish phone. A bit less, or a bit more, depending on your level of Google love and awe.
It doesn’t seem to be bad. Apple certainly needs the competition—the world benefits. The minor choice among carriers that it offers is better than Apple allowing no choice at all. Still, this is a lot of carrying on for a small adjustment to the smart-phone market.
So, what happened? The opportunity seemed to be Google’s to seize and it punted.
Google’s head of mobile told the Financial Times
: “I said Google won’t build hardware. We’re software guys, we’re Internet guys.” Well, hmmm. You certainly implied you were going to build hardware, or didn’t stop everybody else from implying it, and, as for being Internet guys, how come you’re suddenly behaving like phone guys?
I think something happened. Google is already a mature enough company to have lots of people fretting about brand extensions. This product has fret written all over it. And committee politics. It thrills nobody, it offends no one. It’s an incremental move, a toe-into-the-water approach. If we don’t fall on our faces, we’ll do better.
It may be, too, curiously, a vote against mobile. Nobody else is voting against it, everybody else, in fact, is proclaiming it the basis of an epochal transformation in human behavior. So Google pulling back, or, even, running a bit scared, is worth noting. What are they seeing?
Perhaps just a screen that, try as you might, can only ever fit one ad. After all, the Google guy above is wrong about what business Google is in. They’re in the ad business.
And then they might have realized what everybody except Apple understands: Machines are a pain in the ass. Hardware is boring. Why would you want to mold plastic when you own the Internet? (So you let someone else make the thing—in this instance, HTC—and so it becomes their fabrication rather than your vision. Always a disappointment.)
It’s confounding though. We’ve come to expect that Google will always advance the game, remake the system, go a different way.
But in this case, the answer to my friend Jeff Jarvis’ question, What would Google do? is, contrary to all expectations, just what anybody else would do.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.