Google’s Nexus S: Déjà vu

A few days ago my wife and I went to Best Buy to check out the new Google Nexus S phone to replace her old HTC G1. I’ve read many good things about the Nexus S and thought it would make for a wonderful upgrade. However, our experience highlighted the marketing shortcomings that have so far stymied Google’s attempt at breaking into the smartphone market with its own device. While Google did a wonderful job in designing the product and setting an attractive price point, it left much to be desired when it came to the promoting the new device and selecting the right sales channel.

The Nexus S handset is at the top end of the smartphone market: it has a 16 GB internal memory, SD card that allows for 16 more GB of memory, sharp 4-inch AMOLED display, 1 GHz processor, 5 megapixel back-facing camera and a front-facing camera for making video phone calls. The device is priced at $199 with a 2-year T-Mobile contract, at the exact price point where other high- end devices reside. One point of differentiation for the Google S is that it is free of carrier interference when it comes to the Android platform.

All of the above sounds wonderful, but how many people know about the device? Outside of the geek world (to which I belong,) very few people have heard of the device. With the blitz of advertising and promotion by other handset manufacturers and carriers, lack of promotion can be detrimental to any new handset. To make things worse, Google’s Nexus S retail partner, Best Buy, is doing no in-store promotion for the phone. In fact, we had to ask the clerk if they had a display unit and he brought one out from the drawer.

In addition to failure to promote the device in its stores, Best Buy is not necessarily the best sales channel for Google’s devices, which will be buried among the vast numbers of cell phones sharing shelf space with it. Best Buy carries the phones and plans from the four largest carriers in the US and the attention of the limited number of sales staff is scattered among the different carriers, plans and handset. Oh, and you can only order the device online, which defeats the purpose of having Best Buy is a retail partner.

Having a product that meets the demands of the target market segments is not enough to bring that product to market, even at the right price. Promotion and placement are vital to success, and sadly, Google has done an inadequate job in both when it comes to its Nexus line.  The Nexus S is likely to meet the fate of its older sibling, the Nexus One.

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