Why can't Google get Android smartphones right?

The search giant reveals itself as a paper tiger in the mobile space

Remember back in January when Google was going to reinvent the smartphone market and give the Android market a serious iPhone competitor all at once by selling its own Android device -- the Nexus One -- in an unlocked version on a Web store? Pow! A superphone (as Google's execs called it) would invade the world by offering a better device than what had come before and be available to anyone anywhere.

At the time, I couldn't tell if the folks at Google were smoking too much pot, smoking crack, or in a sugar high from their Odwalla fixation. At best, the Nexus One was a me-too device that didn't stand out from the crowd, despite the bizarre mania that sites like Engagdet and Gizmodo had over its megapixel rating (honestly, is that why you buy a smartphone?). And the Web store approach was a throwback to the late 1990s -- e-commerce is not exactly an advanced concept.

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More critically, the unlocked device could hardly be used anywhere; only T-Mobile ended up formally supporting it, despite early promises by Verizon Wireless and Sprint that they would, too (remember: never trust a carrier's promises). Plus, the fact that you needed a separate version of the Nexus One for each carrier meant that it was in fact a locked device, despite what Google claimed.

Fast-forward to last Friday: Google is killing its Web store for the Nexus One. It's also doing the opposite of what it said: Selling the phone through the carriers' stores.

Android has a lot of potential, but boy is Google is showing itself to be a paper tiger outside of its actual search business. HTC and Motorola are making compelling Android smartphones (though not with sufficient business capabilities) that are gaining market share -- something the Nexus One failed to do. Although some pundits say Google's decision to sell the Nexus One puts it in direct competition with its mobile operating system's hardware partners, I can't believe that those companies take Google seriously as a hardware competitor. I sure don't.

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