As we ease our way out of the Nexus 4 charade, we’re left to wonder what went so wrong. Whatever the issues were, the more important consideration is whether or not they’re fixed.
When the October Google event meant to announce the Nexus 4 was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy, we should have known then the phone wouldn’t have an auspicious start. Rather than re-schedule the event, Google decided to simply announce the device via their official blog. No webcast or hangout, no special demo… just a press release.
November 13th was not a Friday, but it felt like it. As the Nexus 4 became available around the globe, information of 20-minute sellouts were hitting the web. First in Australia, then Europe. The expected rollout was 9am here in the US, but that wouldn’t matter. By 9am, the device was long gone.
Google opened sales up at 8:35am on the 13th, and those who were at their computers got lucky… or did they? All day, the internet blew up with stories of people who’s cart was being emptied at checkout, or Google Wallet simply wouldn’t let them progress through to completion. In some instances, people were being asked to verify their identity to Google, or being told they couldn’t ship to a P.O. Box when they weren’t trying to do so. Top that off with the Play Store phone support line shutting down, and it was chaos of epic proportions.
Why was the Nexus 4 so popular?
A gorgeous device, a rabid fan-base and a sexy price tag make for a feeding frenzy. The Nexus line has always set the pace for Android, both in software and hardware. It’s meant as a flagship device, setting the standard for the next year in Android history. While an unlocked device usually runs upward of $600, the Nexus 4 came in at $299 for the 8GB model, and $349 for the 16GB model. The lack of LTE no longer mattered, and an unlocked version being the only variant was small print this time. At those prices, with those specs, who could turn it down?
The device is a work of art, really pushing all standards forward. The sloping glass on the side of the screen, the trendy glass back with that shimmering effect, and the all-black monolith design was something we’ve all fallen for. The hardware isn’t bad, either. Sporting a quad-core processor and 320ppi screen hiding behind that Gorilla Glass means all that project butter-y Android goodness will be a stellar experience.
The USA is not the world
There is also the GSM effect to consider. While only two providers here in the US offer GSM networks, it’s worth noting that the entire planet outside of our borders operates on that variant. While we may only be waking up to this notion of unlocked devices or prepaid plans, our neighbors around the globe have been on this kick for some time. If you consider the sheer number of users across the globe versus here in the US, there was no way this phone… with those specs, at that price… was not going to be wildly popular.
Google was very tight-lipped about what exactly happened. There was no official word as to what was going on, and people were pretty upset. Those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to get a device on the 13th were left to our page refresh extensions in Chrome, as stories around the web of people being able to get a device sporadically throughout the day kept hope alive. Alas, most of the world was left out in the cold, with no new phone.
A few weeks later, the head of Google UK, Dan Cobley, would issue an apology to those that were experiencing issues with orders and order fulfillments, saying:
“I know that what you are going through is unacceptable and we are all working through the nights and weekends to resolve this issue. Supplies from the manufacturer are scarce and erratic, and our communication has been flawed. I can offer an unreserved apology for our service and communication failures in this process.”
For many, this was a clear sign that LG had dropped the ball. For LG, those were fighting words.
Shortly after this statement by Mr. Cobley, Cathy Robin, LG Mobile Director in France, would speak to French news outlet Challenges.fr. Her assertion that “the supply problems are not solely related to LG.” was not a shot over the bow, but it did make people wonder. She went on to deny the rumored slowdown in production, saying that by mid-February there would be “no more pressure” in the marketplace for the device. A frustrating proclamation at the time, but considering where we are today, an accurate one.
Robin would go on to make another telling statement, noting that Nexus 4 projections were based on Galaxy Nexus sales the previous year. This, according to Robin, would lead to shortages in certain regions, while others would be flush with handsets. With no rebuttal from Google, it seems LG’s assertion that Google simply underestimated the popularity of the device was true.
Google screwed this up. This is a Google device, and they dictate all aspects of the project. They have more hand in the design than anyone else, and they are dictating to LG how many devices are needed. The same type of incident occured with the Nexus 7. The difference then was the Play Store took pre-orders to give them a better idea of how many devices they needed. That device was announced at Google I/O last year, and pre-orders were taken immediately after. No solid release date was given, probably to give them time to appreciate the pre-orders and adjust their supply chain accordingly.
LG is simply the manufacturer in this situation. Google told LG how many handsets it needed, and when. We’d love to forgive our favorite tech giant in exchange for blaming LG, but it’s just not right. LG did as they were asked, and have other devices and issues to concern themselves with. Our world may have been turning on the Nexus 4 axis, but LG has a lot of other products to deal with.
Are the issues fixed?
You’ve probably been hearing the past week or two that this device is now available with all sorts of carriers, and in all kinds of stores. Everywhere from Australia to Saudi Arabia people are getting the device soon, if they haven’t already. The device is also available on the Play Store, which is the most promising sign of all. When Google was unable to sell their own device, it was troubling for us all.
T-Mobile has always been a partner for the Nexus 4, having the device the day after launch, both online and in stores. If we are being speculative, it seems Google thought their order numbers were solid, and T-Mobile having the device was meant to be an olive branch to carriers, letting them know it will be coming to the real world and not just the Play Store. Instead, it caused massive headaches for store employees and probably bogged the T-Mobile site down with unnecessary traffic.
Can I get one?
I took a trip to my local T-Mobile store today, and saw a Nexus 4 kiosk. They reported having the device on-hand, ready to go. A few calls placed to other T-Mobile stores in my area resulted in sporadic availability, so while the device is out there… it’s still fresh to the market. If you’re on a CDMA carrier like Sprint or Verizon, it seems you’ll be out of luck. No word of a CDMA or LTE version of the device have come out.
News that major retailers like Best Buy and Walmart will also carry the device are promising, and have probably been in the plan all along. If we take what we know about stores and carriers getting the device, and pair that with statements made about the supply chain issues being resolved by mid-February, it seems the world is well on its way to Nexus 4 bliss.
After a slew of Nexus mishaps, we can only hope Google has learned a valuable lesson. While the reviews noting a lack of LTE being a major issue may have swayed their sales projections, they didn’t seem to consider the “X” factor: hype. This phone, despite its rough start, had a ton of people drooling over it. In this situation, it would have been better safe than sorry. Mobile devices aren’t perishable, so not selling out the first day would not have been the end of the world.
The mobile industry moves quickly, and Google is fortunate nobody came out with a “Nexus beater” device. If there was something better out there, we may not care that the device was now available. Fortunately, this device still stands tall amongst stiff competition, so we’ll be getting a great device at a decent price, even if it’s the $500 variant at T-Mobile. A natural disaster caused an unnatural disaster this time. Hurricane Sandy might have ruined the parade, but not the admiration.
You know, the codename for the Nexus 4 was “Mako”. A Mako is a large shark, and when sharks smell blood, they take advantage. They are relentless killers; opportunists who, when sensing the right time to go in for the kill, attack with unnerving malice. Had the Nexus 4 been readily available from the start, it may have lived up to its name.