Image by spieri_sf via FlickrThere has been quite bit of buzz about the Nexus One and its failure in the marketplace. Google's first branded smartphone has sold only 135,000 units, making it a bona fide flop. But I have to wonder if Google needed or even wanted it to succeed. While the Nexus One was Google's first smartphone, it was hardly a unique product. It was only one of a rather long and always growing line of Android handsets being built by a wide variety of cell phone vendors. In fact, I distinctly recall a lot of grumbling that with the Nexus One, Google was going to be competing directly with its own customers, the companies which had licensed the Android operating system.
And this makes the "failure" of the Nexus One fairly convenient for Google and for its licensees. Now Google can reassure its licensees, "See guys, we're not taking away sales from you!" But despite the lackluster sales, the Nexus One did raise the bar putting powerful hardware into an attractive package which handset makers still have to match. And this was likely the point of the Nexus One all along to let competitors like The Droid get the sales while the Nexus One keeps them honest and nudges them in the direction that Google wants them to go. No more underpowered Android handsets.
This wouldn't be the first time that Google has done something like this, putting out a product that was designed more to nudge rivals than to actually succeed on its own. While Google Chrome is growing in popularity and is now the basis for an ambitious new operating system, Chrome's original purpose seemed to be to assure that Google apps like GMail would run really, really fast. As a result, Chrome was a very fast browser with no extensions, no themes, and other glaring flaws. If the history of Chrome is any indication, I doubt if anyone at Google is losing any sleep over the Nexus One's sales.