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Summary:

The Google phone, dubbed the Nexus One–an unbranded HTC-made carrier-unlocked handset running Android 2.0–looks slick. Here is why it won’t be an iPhone killer, though.

Over the weekend the rumors of a Google Phone were confirmed in the guise of the whimsically named Nexus One. It’s an unbranded HTC-made carrier-unlocked handset running Android 2.0, and it looks lovely. And already articles have popped-up examining its various (rumored) features and, naturally, pondering when we can buy one for ourselves.

Why is the first thought we have when we see a new mobile phone whether we should consider switching?

Admit it — when you look at a friend’s mobile phone you automatically run through a series of questions in the back of your mind. My standard set include “Does it look good?” and “Does it have a nice UI?” (Of course, certain conditions, if met, automatically remove the phone from consideration; such as “Oh, it’s a clamshell…” and “What are those hard nobbly plasticky things? Keys, you say?”)

We do the same with desktop computers. In an airport lounge or coffee shop I feel a certain sort of infallible pride when cracking open my MacBook. After all, everyone knows those are great machines, right? Yet I still look at the other machines around me and run through my mental checklist. It’s crazy how insecure I am, how much I need to be sure my laptop doesn’t suck.

Operating Systems, too, get the same appraisal. We can’t help it. Every new release of Mac OS X gets compared with the latest version of Windows. There’s every good reason to do this if you regularly use both platforms. If you only Tweet, update Facebook or watch hilarious kittens on YouTube, what does it matter that the paltform you don’t own and don’t need just got an upgrade?

Of course, Geeks will always do this comparison of technologies — it’s in our DNA, we can’t help ourselves. But there’s a problem; our technophilic tendencies leak over into the world of the Normals.

Is Y the New X?

We use our iPhones and Kindles to scan the tech press and follow geek–lists on Twitter, while Normals, on the other hand, read dead-tree newspapers and don’t know what Twitter is. But look at the so-called “Technology” columns in those newspapers (you know, where sidebars helpfully explain the meaning of words like “touchscreen” and “3G”) and you’ll notice that they’re forever comparing gadgets, computers, OS’s and websites. Trust me, no daily newspaper “technology” columnist genuinely believes their readers care about the differences between Twitter and BrightKite. Less so the differences between Snow Leopard and Windows 7. Strangely, that doesn’t stop them writing about it.

They’re just reading select blogs in the tech community and writing their own carbon copy equivalents of what they find there. It’s to be expected, for here in Geektown technology comparions are part of the landscape. But we are taking it too far. Particularly in asking that assinine question, “Is Y the new X?”

The Nexus One is generating a lot of (quite unnecessary) buzz and if you haven’t already stumbled upon the YX question, you very soon will — “Is the Nexus the real iPhone killer?”

I say it’s nonsense. In time we’ll see detailed teardowns of the Nexus, and while geeks will compare its screen and processor to other handsets, mainstream media hacks will salivate over the possibility that here, finally, at last! we have a phone to beat the iPhone. It’s a silly pursuit.

The Nexus One. A handsome phone, but not an iPhone Killer. (Image by Engadget)

It took almost three years, but manufacturers are fast catching-up to the iPhone. Bewildering, however, the press coverage of smartphones — driven to hysteria in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone — is almost entirely focused on finding an iPhone killer. It’s the same false-dichotomy we would ridicule if, say, Nissan’s next family five-door were hailed as “the Ford killer.” Ridiculous, right? After all, they’re both essentially just cars. Strip away the optional GPS and gravity-defying cup-holders and they both have the same basic innards. This is true of the latest smartphones. They’re basically the same. True, smartphones used to be terrible, but that’s only because manufacturers were committed to cheap and easy business models and customers didn’t know they could demand something better. Apple decided to do something about that. It was a one-time shift in the mobile industry that will not happen again. The only phone that’s going to replace the iPhone is — predictably enough — the next iPhone. I can’t believe intelligent, insightful journalists and editors keep missing that point.

For every smartphone owner on the planet I’d wager there are a dozen more people with a dumb “feature” phone. Those people will never go out of their way to buy smartphones, but as the latest technology becomes cheaper, smaller and easier to manufacture, it will find its way into all handsets. One day, all phones will be smart. And most people will get there never caring which handset came first, was better than some other handset, or was considered a “killer.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s Mac vs. Windows, Bing vs. Google or iPhone vs. Android. Breathless reports along the lines of “X is here, and Y should be worried…” are almost always just white noise.

The Nexus One is a non-story. I wonder how long it will take everyone else to realize that.

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  1. People who are asking if the Nexus1 is an ‘IPhone Killer’ are asking the wrong question. The Google Phone will be an IPod/ITouch/Zune killer …*prediction*

    http://bit.ly/8bW0L6

    http://twitter.com/A_F

  2. I agree with what you are saying except for the “Normals” perspective.

    Not long ago I was a Geek in Normals clothing because I hadn’t made the jump to smart phones yet. I had been eagerly waiting for the iPhone to come out but when it did and it was only offered on AT&Ts service I was extremely disappointed. After all, I live in a rural small town community and am at the mercy of the coverage maps. To add to that, I had convinced my family to dump our land line phones many years earlier. As you can see, coverage is essential to us. As the years went by coverage increased as providers merged until finally Alltel was purchased by Verizon. Now the infamous “There’s a map for that” campaign was in full swing and, although it did frustrate me at first, it actually spurred me toward AT&T. After I had thoroughly researched both companies I came to see that the lack of 3G coverage doesn’t effect my ability to make or receive my precious phone calls. I will still be able to connect with my friends, family and business associates. So I made the leap and finally have myself an iPhone. I’m loving every minute of it too I might add. And so this has been my story. So you see, there are still some frustrated Geeks in “Normal” clothing out there they just need the right opportunity to change their clothes. ;-)

    1. See, that’s strange. I also live in a rural small town, yet our AT&T coverage is *excellent* out here. Even 3G. Sometimes it all depends on where you are. Glad that the iPhone is working out for you, though! :) Hopefully you get 3G coverage soon.

  3. You’d think they’d at least call it the Nexus 7…

    1. Nah, the Nexus 7 won’t have that pesky lifespan built in and it won’t be bug-nuts…

  4. FINALLY!!! Someone gets it. Those numb-nuts at Techcrunch are going ga-ga over this Nexus One.

  5. It’s not about the Nexus One. It’s about Android… on everything.

    1. @ Jonathan
      (fill in the blank) on everything is always a bad idea!

      Why would anyone cheer on such a silly, simplistic, childish, emotionally based and dangerous concept.

      Monopolies, financial, technical or political are always bad new for us as citizens and customers.

      Zoom way out, see the hype and read some history!

      Anyway – why do folks like you attached your egos to a particular product line even before it proves itself. Do you do the same about the brand of car or pants you own?

  6. The iphone is clearly the touchstone of smartphones, as such whenever I see iphone killer it just makes me think that this phone is supposed to compete head to head with the iphone on features. So yeah iphone killer is a stupid buzz word in the whole scheme of things, but it does separate for example the pixi from the droid today.

  7. I agree with this article and I would go further in that it seems to me that people are so obsessed with finding something better than the iPhone that they have blinders on that make the iPhone “true believers” blinders look small in comparison.

    This is just another Android phone, with yet another slightly different UI. I don’t see it’s that much to get excited about.

    The “blinders” part really seems obvious to me when you look at that screenshot and some of the video’s that have been circulating. It’s really dark and butt-ugly with that retro wallpaper look, the UI is not very well thought out, and it’s only marginally different from any other Android UI you’ve seen so far anyway.

    Anyone that looks at this thing and sez it’s teh sexy, needs their head examined. Reviewers (not this one), need to check their hyperbole at the door a bit more when talking about this stuff IMO.

    1. Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s just another Android phone – with yet another version of Android on it. So if this thing really drops on January 5th, that will mean that within three months time, there are FOUR versions of Android floating around. 1.5, 1.6 (both versions afoot on T-Mobile’s network), 2.0 (exclusive to Verizon’s Droid for now, further peeing in the “Android is so open” soup) and now 2.1 on this alleged Google Phone.

      People know *NOTHING* about this device, yet there are already people saying that it’s “serious competition” and how they’re going to be switching over? News flash: Android has a LONG way to go. And yes, I have used Android. I too bought into the Android hype and had a G1 and then a MyTouch 3G. I switched to AT&T (who has excellent coverage in my market, I might add) and got an iPhone 3GS and Android doesn’t hold a candle to the iPhone in any way, shape, or form. Sorry about that.

      Android/iPhone wars are the new Mac/PC.

  8. Wow. This sounds an awful lot like the logic Steve Ballmer used when the iPhone was released. I think you’re being short-sighted.

    I love my iPhone, but this is the first time I’ve even considered switching. And I actually think I will. Make no mistake, this *is* iPhone’s competition. And it’s cracking up to be some serious competition.

    1. @ John Walker

      Ready to switch based on nothing but a lot of silly blog hype – PLEASES!

      You put salt on your food before you taste it don’t you!

    2. @Raymond – Aren’t you jumping to conclusions a bit? – whether this is some Magical unlocked phone, or just comes out as a “normal” HTC passion – it’s got a great screen and a faster processor than the iPhone. Some people want the fastest processor, some just want away from AT&T’s network, and on and on.

    3. To switch to the Nexus One, you have to switch to T-Mobile. Is that really what you want? If it is unlocked as reported, you could also remain on AT&T but forgo 3G data on the phone. Is that what you want? Are you sure this device is something that is going to cause a big switch? Because I don’t see it.

  9. Very good article. We see lots of phones every year that are decent phones, but I think the key is that they aren’t running iPhone OS. Sure it has its limitations *cough, backgrounding, cough*, but overall, it seems to be a platform that people are enjoying.

    Plus, it’s the iPhone. I’ve met people who’ve bought the iPhone just because it looks and sounds cool. This phone that Google has built with HTC is the first of the Android phones that doesn’t look like a toy. The G1, MyTouch, and yes, even the DROID looks kind of cheap and chintzy when you put an iPhone next to them. It might be well made, but the iPhone’s styling is such that it puts all other phones to shame.

    Perhaps with decent hardware, Google will be able to do a successful phone. However, I personally am not in favor of Google having access to yet MORE of my stuff.

  10. If any org should be worrying, it is MS.

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