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Summary:

Google is experiencing some notable customer service issues as it works to increase its presence in mobile. While such hiccups may have been predictable, they’ll need to be addressed as Android begins to get legs with mainstream users.

There’s no denying Android’s momentum: Droid sales are strong, the Nexus One is drawing positive (if not fawning) reviews, and the operating system is quickly expanding beyond phones to tablets as Google works toward its vision of the Androidification of everything. But the land of Android isn’t always wine and roses for consumers, some of whom are sharing Google’s growing pains in mobile. And while such hiccups may have been predictable, they’ll need to be addressed as Android begins to get legs with mainstream users. In just the last few weeks:

  • Users of the new Samsung Galaxy have learned that they’re not in line for an upgrade to Android 2.0, which first came to market with the Droid a mere two months after the Galaxy became available. The revelation highlights the double-edged sword of open-source software, which is fertile ground for fragmented versions of the OS from different manufacturers and carriers. And as Sebastian pointed out last week, questions are beginning to emerge about just how open Google is with Android given that the Nexus One runs version 2.1 while the Droid still runs 2.0. Those scenarios can leave consumers in the dark regarding which version they’re using — and what kind of update they can expect.
  • Predictably, Google has experienced a rash of complaints from customers as it takes on the role of mobile retailer. Message-board comments were being posted almost by the minute by Friday afternoon, according to one report, as consumers tried to get information ranging from T-Mobile USA’s upgrade policies to technical help. Google, in turn, encouraged Nexus One users to call HTC or T-Mobile — a suggestion that may have irritated Google’s partners.
  • A rogue Android Market app was identified that tried to glean bank log-in details from users. The offering was disguised as a legitimate banking application but — in a twist on an old Internet ploy — was an effort to get people to divulge their log-in information. While such an app could make its way into Apple’s App Store — which is notoriously, if arbitrarily, policed — it underscores the downside of the less-regulated Android Market.

No player in the mobile space bats 1.000 when it comes to customer service, of course, and Google will surely experience many more headaches as it continues to expand beyond search and advertising into the world of mobile retailer and operating system developer. But wireless consumers now have several attractive options when it comes to smartphones and the software that runs on them. Early adopters may not mind helping Google iron out the wrinkles, but as Android goes mainstream the company will have to convince users it’s not the wild, wild West of the smartphone space.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lisa Brewster.

  1. I figured Google was in for a wake-up call. Mobile phones and consumer products are a different beast than giving away free beta software on the internet.

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  2. Google is NOT set-up or ready for provision of real customer service of this type. Is anyone surprised that they make people email them? It does, in fact, highlight their arrogance if they think people are going to be ok with that.

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  3. Very Nice :)

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  4. Having launched the first Android device, the T-Mobile G1, as a VP of Product Development at T-Mobile,I have a particular insight into what Google values and doesn’t value about the existing business model for mobile phones. Under the banner of “do no evil” they represent that the company – and the Android team – know what’s best for consumers. But if they did, they would know that sending an auto-generated email response to a customer care issue suggesting that a service response will come within 72 hours is not a good consumer experience. While they do not have a recurring subscription relationship with the customer that the carriers their brand is on the device, the consumer bought the product from their web site, and they have a responsibility to provide the service level a $500+ product should deliver. The fact that a GREAT customer experience may have been triaged for launch is no excuse not to have at least a good one.

    I also believe that the consumer does not know how to use or trust the “community” in the apps marketplace. Reviews and ratings mean nothing if they come from the gang of software hackers and pirates in collusion with the developer who published the app. Enabling apps to enter your phone that can steal personal data also doesn’t feel like it falls under the banner of “do no evil.”

    I wrote about this on my site back in December, before the Nexus One launched. For an open OS to be mainstream, the consumer MUST know where to place their trust. http://gearheadgal.net/home/2009/12/12/can-an-open-os-ever-really-be-mainstream.html

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  5. Does Nexus One support Android’s auto-updates/upgrades?

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  6. [...] see how Google carries on pushing this device in the coming months. The company is experiencing a backlash over customer service issues and more recently about confusion about service cancellation [...]

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  7. Though it does seem that Google should have foreseen the importance of customer service in the consumer electronics space, the firm remains well positioned to develop a best-of-breed mobile device for local search/discovery as well as mobile productivity. As part of an analysis on the Hierarchy of Mobile Needs prepared for my blog, The Acquiror, it became very apparent that a sizable void exists that is shouting to be filled. And with tightly-held assets like local search, Google Maps, Google Apps, and a newly acquired mobile advertising platform, Google could strategically do what would take Apple, RIM and other smartphone leaders a considerable amount of time to do well.

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  8. [...] Android: The Wild West of the Smartphone Space? [...]

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