Ruminations on the launch of the Google Galaxy Nexus

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Warning: the following is not even remotely entertaining.

I was very tempted to preorder the new Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus smartphone. I managed to talk myself down from that very expensive precipice, but I did a fair amount of reading and thinking about it. Now that I’ve done all that thinking, I’ll put some of the product up here, just to pretend it wasn’t a total waste of time.

It’s natural to compare the new flagship Google phone with the latest iPhone, but when I came across a post casting the “launch” of the Galaxy Nexus (i.e. the first day’s sales at the first shop to have the GN available in the UK), as a pathetic failure (citing a lack of queues out the door), it (despite striking me as disingenuous) set me thinking.

If Google had intended the launch to really be an event, they’d have made sure there was stock in a lot of locations, that everybody knew where to go and when, and that it would be a fun place to be. As it was, one shop in London had the thing on the announced launch date, and it was difficult to have confidence that even that was going to happen, until it actually did.

I don’t think Google are really trying for blockbuster phone sales – not blockbuster Galaxy Nexus sales, in any case, not right out of the gate.

Apple offers a couple of options (colour and storage) on a standard device. If you want the latest phone running iOS, you know what to buy, and it’s the one phone Apple wants you to buy. Making an event of the launch is absolutely the right thing to do to help capitalize on the pent-up desire for a new iPhone, and to fuel continuing interest in Apple products.

The Android device market is different. There are multiple manufacturers, each with several devices aimed at different user niches. Here, it’s all about choice, and the latest and greatest is regularly knocked off its pedestal by a new, more powerful device.

Maximizing the number of users interfacing with the net via Android, regardless of whose hardware it’s on, prevents other software makers from getting a stranglehold on how content (and what content) is allowed to be consumed on mobile platforms, and using Android fosters a sense of allegiance to Google as a brand. Blowing away the other manufacturers’ Android market share with “THE Android phone” wouldn’t necessarily benefit Google .

In fact, huge initial sales of the Galaxy Nexus could be counterproductive. If masses of people had been inspired to line up and spend iPhone quantities of cash on the Galaxy Nexus on its release, many would now be wondering what life would have been like with an iPhone, while they wait for their favourite apps to all be compatible with ICS, and for Adobe Flash support, and for the volume bug to be sorted. While the volume problem may have been unanticipated, Google would have been perfectly well aware that a lot of software, including Flash, won’t be compatible with the new version of the OS at first.

The Galaxy Nexus is a publicity vehicle and reference device for the thing Google really wants people to care about: shiny new Android 4.0, “Ice Cream Sandwich” (ICS for short), the unification of Google’s phone and tablet operating systems (OS). Google wants the thing first in the hands of the technically-minded; specifically, early adopters who don’t hold a grudge over a few rough edges, and developers who will release apps for ICS.

These two (overlapping) groups will perform the two major services of squashing bugs that would leave a bad taste in the mouth (now there’s a metaphor) of a mainstream consumer, and of developing and adapting apps to work with ICS. This prepares the ground for the manufacturers to release their own devices with a polished ICS on board, and people’s favourite apps ready to go when they upgrade.

OK, that’s all fine. But all that thinking didn’t answer the one really important question: not being a developer, and having plenty of things to spend money on besides a phone, how do I justify getting myself one of these?