A 3rd Horse? Finally?

January 12, 2012

Nokia announced the pending arrival of the Lumia N900 with 4G LTE for AT&T at CES this week and based on most of the internet response I’ve seen, it would seem Windows Phone might finally gain some traction in 2012.  However, yesterday Sprint’s Vice President of Product Realization David Owens told pcmag:

“We have a Windows device in our lineup, but honestly, it hasn’t done well enough for us to jump     back into the fire. We told Microsoft: You guys have to go build the enthusiasm for the product. We’ll train our reps on why it’s great…[but] the number-one reason the product was returned was the user experience,” 

WTF?  That’s the key thing everyone says Windows Phone has going for it?  Now because the device he’s referencing, the HTC Arrive, is a landscape slide out qwerty device and WIndows Phone doesn’t support landscape usage across the OS, I can imagine they have had some confused consumers return the device.  I always wondered why the hell they picked that form factor for their first WP7 device anyway.

Regardless, when a major carrier says they’re not interested in trying to sell a phone on your platform until they’re convinced it’s worth the effort, your not just a long shot, you’re not even in the race.

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I contend there is no such thing as “Android marketshare” aside from the Nexus devices.  There is only marketshare to be gained for each OEM who uses Android as their platform and then customizes it to their liking.

When Google released the Nexus One two years ago this week and sold it via their own Nexus branded website, many geeks were extremely excited by the exclusion of cellular carrier commingling in the process, or the at least the promise of such exclusion.  As we know now that play failed and Google rather quickly shuttered this sales channel.

In December of 2010 they launched the Nexus S via specialized Best Buy Mobile stores in the US and I would guess had marginally better sales of that device compared to the Nexus One.  The Nexus S 4G released on Sprint last spring would introduce full blown carrier commingling, and of course the launch of the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon last month has further scorched down that unfortunate trail.  But maybe even excluding the HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus, I’m sure more were sold this past month than the Nexus One sold in it’s lifetime.

However, the Nexus One was the most successful Nexus device to date.  Why?  It pushed Android using OEMs to raise their game on both software and hardware, and they largely did during 2010.  The Nexus S was less a leap  from then current Android devices (as much on the hardware front as the genuine dot release Gingerbread represented), and so much less pressure was brought to bear on Android using OEMs to play “Nexus catch up” during 2011.

The latest Nexus release which despite it’s unprecedented smartphone specifications is more a vehicle for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich than it is a product unto itself.  That would seem to be a very desirable accomplishment for Google and yet this has begun to have the opposite effect on Android using OEMs than did the Nexus One:  they don’t know what the hell to do.  Ironically HTC in particular seemed unprepared for questions on their upgrade plans when ICS was unveiled. Samsung itself took a shotgun to their foot when they recently announced their Galaxy S line would not be updated because they couldn’t incorporate their TouchWiz skin on top of ICS – never mind ICS has already been released for the Nexus S which was a Galaxy S variant.  Motorola published an explanation of why it would take them until sometime in the spring to upgrade their recently released devices (as in very recently released one one right after another seemingly without end) and my immediate response was: wow that doesn’t seem worth the effort, they may as well release a new device with ICS in the spring (especially since by then they may be a subsidiary of Google).

Maybe this is what Google wanted?  Maybe they wanted Android using OEMs to struggle so much with integrating their customizations into ICS they would fail and give up eventually?  Motorola just reported unimpressive profits (not that it matters relative to the Google takeover) and HTC reported profit decline last week.  Samsung reported record profits and being they’ve earned captaincy of the Nexus train one wonders what’s next in this evolution?  Surely they won’t make the next Nexus, but what if HTC has eschewed ICS by this time next year and makes their own Sense laden fork of Android a la Amazon?

I know that sounds crazy, but you can admit it doesn’t sound that crazy and consequently Android is now not just a fragmented platform, it’s broken.  And the Nexus model of pushing OEMs to push the platform forward ironically is what broke it.