Hey Google: If your Nexus 4 is sold out, just say so

Are you in Europe and jonesing for a fix of Androidy newness? Good luck – the Nexus 4 smartphone and Nexus 10 tablet, both of which went on sale on Tuesday, are already sold out on the Google Play store in the UK and in Germany.

Reports suggest that the smartphone took all of 30 minutes to vanish from availability for customers in the UK. The Nexus 10 must have gone pretty quickly too, in both its 16GB and 32GB variants – both are showing up as “coming soon”.

Google Nexus 4And that grates, at least for me. OK, I’ll admit that I’m a bit ticked off, as my current smartphone is dying and I was hoping to at least place an order for a Nexus 4 today. But I do think there is a problem with Google’s ordering system – the type of problem it really should fix if it is to succeed in selling physical products directly to consumers.

The issue is that “coming soon” tag. When Google announced its new devices a couple of weeks back, I (like many) was quick to fill in the “sign up to be notified by email” box on the Play Store. The device would become available on 13 November, I was told. Then, first thing this morning, no email, and still a “coming soon” tag on the Nexus 4 Play Store page. (If I was one of those people who’d stayed up until midnight to get my order in first, I would already have been annoyed at this point.)

So off I went to a conference, part of the way through which I received an email on my phone saying the Nexus 4 was available. By the time I got my laptop to a connection, I saw exactly the same “coming soon” tag.

Now, even I – a reasonably seasoned tech journalist – initially thought this was a glitch. It was only when I complained on Twitter that someone told me I was simply too late.

So here’s my question: would it kill Google to write “out of stock” on that Play Store page, or perhaps to give some estimate of when new stock might arrive? I already found it strange that prospective customers could only pre-register interest, rather than pre-order. Now the system is effectively asking me to register my interest a second time, post-availability.

In short, Google’s retail system gives every appearance of being broken. Selling out within minutes can give a good impression, but not when it leaves thwarted customers-to-be this much in the dark.

Perhaps Google really doesn’t know when it will be getting more stock in. It’s certainly the case that the Nexus 4 rollout is a bizarre beast here in Europe. LG, the manufacturer, has been trying to set an eye-watering recommended retail price for the 16GB device of €599 ($760) in countries such as Italy and Austria, where Google isn’t selling it directly to customers itself. A reminder of Google’s pricing for exactly the same handset: €349. How much stock is going the LG retail route, and how much the Google Play route?

On the positive side, Google Play Music is, as of Tuesday, finally live in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. This will be really crucial for the company in these markets – once you’ve got your customers buying into your iTunes-rivalling paid content ecosystem, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to hang onto them and get them to buy stuff.

If only Google could make life a bit easier for people trying to buy its hardware.