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Google denies carriers fled Nexus One webstore

Head Android blames hassle of direct sales

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Google I/O Google Android project lead Andy Rubin has said that wireless carriers departed the company's online Nexus One store only after it had decided to change how the phone was sold.

"I don't think our partners were backing away from selling the Nexus One," Rubin told reporters today at Google's annual developer conference in San Francisco. "I think what happened was that we changed our distribution model and couple of weeks passed by before we announced it and some of our partners made some product changes before we had the chance to announce it."

When Google announced the Nexus One in early January, calling it a "superphone," the company also said it would "revolutionize" phone distribution by selling the device only on the web. But less than four months later, word arrived that Vodafone would be selling the phone through its retail stores in Europe, and an update to Google's webstore indicated that both Vodafone and Verizon Wireless, the US carrier partly owned by Vodafone, would not be joining the store as planned.

Then, earlier this month, Google said it would close its online store as it switches all sales to partner retail stores. It will shutter the online store once it gets enough phones in enough brick-and-mortar stores.

Today, one reporter asked Rubin whether it was safe to say that Google had flopped in its effort to, as Rubin put in January, "fundamentally change the way phones were sold." Rubin paused. "From a technology perspective, I think the Nexus One was the showcase superphone at the time, and that set the bar," he responded. "To be revolutionary in the way people buy phones? That didn't happen."

At launch, Rubin said he would be happy if Google sold 150,000 Nexus One phones, and the company has apparently sold about 500,000 — but that's small potatoes compared to the larger Android market.

So why the change? Rubin indicated that Google changed its mind because running a webstore was just too complicated. "Fundamentally, we do a direct-to-consumer distribution business where you're hooking into these various provisioning systems for all these operators all over the world. It's a pretty intense undertaking just, literally, hooking into the billing systems that are available in all these operators in all these countries, and what we decided to do was to focus our resources on the platforms and the apps to make the platform shine rather than hooking into provisioning systems and billing systems."

You'd think a revolution would be worth the hassle. But there you have it.

Rubin says it took six months to build the US version of the store, which was the sole launch on January 5. "When we thought about how we were going to scale that to the world, we thought we would focus on the things that consumers will actually love."

Back in January, Rubin also said that in opening the Nexus One store, Google was not competing with existing Android partners. But word was that the likes of Motorola and Verizon were "miffed" at the fact that Google had turned itself into a phone seller. Motorola and Verizon had just spent $100 million promoting their Android-based Droid phone.

Rubin was also asked if there would be a Nexus Two. "You're asking me to comment on unannounced products," he said. "I can't do that." In March, a Google employee told The Reg that a Nexus Two was in the works. But that may have changed too. ®

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