Google.com/phone – What’s Next?

I don’t think it’s any secret that Google typically makes terrific business decisions, as you don’t become a Top 200 Global Company without doing so.  I have to admit though, there’s one aspect of Google that has left me scratching my head just a little bit.  Just over one year ago, in January 2010, Google released its new cell phone the Nexus One (good decision), and simultaneously announced it would only be available to purchase through Google.com/phone (head scratching decision).  It appeared Google wanted to enter the world of mobile device eCommerce.  Though the phone is excellent  (my fiancé purchased the Nexus One when it came out), through 2010 there have been numerous reports of disappointing sales, most likely due to the unavailability of the phone through typical channels.  No doubt Google had weighed the risks vs rewards when deciding to try its hand at ecommerce, and it may have come to find out that the world just isn’t quite ready for Google being a retailer.  As a result,  it came as no great surprise when Google announced it would be discontinuing the Nexus One in July, along with the Google.com/phone online store.

But while purchasing a Nexus One via Google.com/phone is no longer a possibility, the website Google.com/phone lived on. On September 30th, Google announced via its official mobile blog that it was launching the “Google Phone Gallery” on the Google.com/phone property.  The Google Phone Gallery is essentially a database of Android OS phones directing interested traffic to the appropriate carrier website.

Screen Shot of Google.com/phone – 01/27/11

screenshot google.com/phone january 2011

*image source google.com/phone

  • On November 1st, 2010 there were 26 devices from 6 different service providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Cellularsouth, US Cellular).  On January 27th, there were 37 devices also available from 6 service providers, indicating Google is continuining to grow this database with each new launch
  • The 37 devices includes 2 discontinued devices which are still available to “compare”.  The Nexus One and the DROID Eris by HTC.  It also includes the Samsung Galaxy Tablet, available from all four major US Wireless providers.
  • The Gallery is not exhaustive of all Android devices. For example, it doesn’t include the popular Motorola Cliq or the Zio from recent Android entrant Sanyo/Kyocera. But most intriguing is that the gallery doesn’t include Android devices preloaded with Bing or Yahoo as the default search engine, such as the Samsung Fascinate (with Bing as the default) and the Motorola Backflip (with Yahoo as the default).  These missing devices have lead to much discussion that Google.com/phone is only a Google Phone Gallery, as opposed to a broader Android Phone Gallery

Moving from an ecommerce store to an Android Storefront was an interesting shift in strategy, that does not appear to have driven sustained interest in Google.com/phone.  Even with the addition of new devices over the past few months, traffic has not consistently rose to the levels we saw in January of 2010.  Below, we look at weekly traffic to Google.com/phone:

volume of weekly traffic google.com/phone june 2010 to october 2010

  • Traffic to the online “store” dropped nearly 75% W-O-W from the week of the 18th to the week of the 25th, when Google stopped selling the Nexus One
  • With the exception of initial push after the announcement of the Gallery the week of 9/26/2010, traffic has remained low since the week of the 18th

It’s not surprising traffic has been so low, as Google has not appeared to have done anything to drive traffic to the phone page.  Keeping with its traditions, there are no links to the page on the Google.com homepage, and you can’t find a link to it within the Google navigation.  In fact, even a search for “Android Phones” on Google.com turns up nothing.

Screenshot of search results for “Android Phones” – 02/01/11

google search results android phones february 2011

*image source google.com

A year later, Google.com/phone exists, but in a completely different manner with significantly less traffic.  Knowing Google (or at least Google’s history) it seems unlikely they are clinging on to an unsuccessful venture, as they usually know when to cut their losses (the few times they have losses to cut).  We can even see that with the quick dismissal of the Nexus One and 2010 eCommerce venture.  It seems more likely that there is more going on behind the scenes.  Perhaps Google is learning from their 2010 try at eCommerce, and is making changes and gearing up for a new attempt at it in the near future.  I’m thinking that Google is actually just working to promote the distinction between “Google” Android devices and “Other” android devices, with the end goal of causing struggles for those Android manufacturers choosing to preload Yahoo! or Bing.  Either way, I don’t believe Google.com/phone has survived by accident, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Google has up its sleeve for it.

About BeckyBitzenhofer:
Becky Bitzenhofer is a Senior Associate at Compete. Becky spends her time at Compete managing a data team and delivering competitive analysis to wireless clients. Before Becky joined the Compete team she was a student at the University of Vermont. Becky hopes to continue to use and improve her analysis skills, and develop new and better ways use data to improve website performance. You can find and follow Becky on Twitter under the name Beckybitz.