The Nexus One: A Non-Story

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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