CES 2010: With T-Mobile, Google's Nexus One Finds A Home
One of a series of planned posts from the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show…
Three years ago, while many of my fellow editors and I were here in Las Vegas, a goodly chunk of our attention was redirected elsewhere; specifically to San Francisco, where Apple was announcing its first iPhone. And two days ago (as I alluded to yesterday), Google took a page from Apple’s playbook, preempting CES to unveil the Google-branded and HTC-designed Nexus One ’superphone’ that I last discussed several weeks ago. You’ll note that in that earlier writeup, I intentionally avoided offering any definitive conclusion as to whether or not the rumored handset existed or not; instead, I focused my attention on criticizing those ‘journalists’ who would unethically feed the hype machine in the pursuit of more website hits.
Truth be told, I suspected the Nexus One was more than just an employee ‘dogfood eating’ vehicle; I pointed out, for example, that the company had set up a consumer-friendly website, and that it had applied for a trademark on the ‘Nexus One’ name (which the estate of Philip K. Dick is now disputing). And the handset’s specs are pretty much as prognosticated back in December; a 1 GHz ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU running v2.1 of the Android operating system, a 3.7" diagonal AMOLED display sourced from Samsung, a 5 Mpixel camera with WVGA video capture resolution, dual-mic ambient noise suppression courtesy of Audience, and 512 MBytes of internal flash memory mated to 512 MBytes of RAM, with additional memory expansion via a MicroSD slot (which currently cannot be used for application storage, due to a to-be-fixed-someday no-encryption limitation of the Android O/S).
Also now confirmed is that the handset’s 3G cellular data service capabilities are currently restricted to T-Mobile in the United States, since the GSM-only device (with a CDMA-based Verizon flavor coming later this spring) doesn’t support AT&T’s UMTS frequencies. To wit, you can currently buy the Nexus One two different ways; GSM carrier-unlocked and unsubsidized direct from Google for $529.99 (thereby answering my few-week back question of whether Google would notably drop the Nexus One’s price as compared with unlocked handset predecessors, with a definitive ‘no’ response), or subsidized (and also unlocked) for $179.99 via a two-year contract with T-Mobile. Reviews of the Nexus One are quite upbeat, and as a long-time T-Mobile customer I admit to being tempted. But several factors are keeping me from actualizing my aspirations:
- No wireless or wired tethering support. The ‘broadband’ service here at the hotel is utter junk (although it admittedly did allow me to stream Steve Ballmer’s keynote last night). As such, I’ve been heavily reliant on the Bluetooth link to my EV-DO Rev. A-supportive BlackBerry handset and its unlimited data plan, along with the pairing to my EDGE-implementing and carrier-unlocked iPhone 3G. Both Sprint and T-Mobile’s cellular networks are also getting hammered here, but at least at the moment I can use them to reliably (albeit slowly) send and receive data streams. None of this would be possible if I was using the Nexus One.
- No subsidization for existing T-Mobile customers. This one really irks me. Why isn’t the company allowing loyal long-time customers to lock into new two-year contracts at the $179.99 handset price? But it’s all a moot point, it seems, because there’s…
- No compatibility with my particular cellular plan. I’ve got the first-generation T-Mobile G1 here, recently upgraded to Android v1.6, which I’m still trying to test on anything other than a Wi-Fi connection. So far, my attempts to mate the handset with my SIM card have been unsuccessful. I can make and take voice calls, but every time I try to use cellular data services, I get prompted to upgrade my plan to an Android package at either $35 (unlimited web, email, and text messages) or $25 (unlimited web and email, 400 text messages). This occurs even though I’ve already got a $20 Total Internet Add-On data package on my T-Mobile account, along with a $5-for-300 message package, both of which seem to work fine with Windows Mobile phones and unlocked iPhone 3Gs. T-Mobile recently sent me the carrier unlock code for my G1, which I hoped would remove this restriction, but I can’t get it to work with my T-Mobile SIM. Alternatively, there’s always the CyanogenMod project, whose firmware would also enable USB tethering, but I’m worried about ‘bricking’ the unit in the process of doing the upgrade.
More generally, I’m still more than a bit flabbergasted that Google decided to bypass both its other carrier and hardware partners and go with a branded offering in partnership with HTC and T-Mobile, especially considering that the handset’s unsubsidized price is unmemorable. If I were at Motorola or Samsung, both of which are also Android handset developers, I’d be really upset right now. Verizon, which partnered with Motorola on the Droid just a few months ago, is probably also pretty peeved, as are AT&T (who announced plans for five Android handsets here at the show) and Sprint.
Google’s move, however, is reminiscent of Microsoft’s with Zune. For several years, Microsoft attempted to compete against the iPhone via an array of partners’ PlaysForSure-compliant devices, with little success. There was, in retrospect, too much product and service fragmentation resulting from an excess of differentiation, all of which only led to consumer confusion. Similarly, Google probably feels that it needs to regain some control of the Android ecosystem in order to efficiently move the platform forward against the iPhone juggernaut. And pragmatically, what other options do the carriers and hardware developers have? Symbian, which is wilting on the vine? Windows Mobile, which has also fallen off the pace and whose upcoming v7 iteration Steve Ballmer barely mentioned in last night’s keynote?
Google’s in the driver’s seat with Android, and the company seems determined to make maximum return on its investment.
p.s…I can’t resist pointing out the delicious ‘coincidence’ of Apple announcing that same day the 3 billionth download from the iPhone (and iPod touch) App Store. Think Steve Jobs is a bit nervous about Google and Android, mebbe? Me too.