As we lead up to the release of the upcoming Pixel 4, I thought this would be a great time to chronicle the path that led Google to where we are at now. During this journey we will chronicle each phone and hopefully see what excited fans to gravitate to the hardware of Google.
Let’s start with the Nexus One. Released in January of 2010, this was the first of the nexus-pixel line of phones to ever be released. Designed by HTC, the nexus one was ahead of its time with the approach Google used to sell the device.
At the time, people were accustomed to going into a carrier store, picking out a phone, and signing a 2 year agreement. Both customers and carriers were use to the idea of including the phone as part of the contract. So when a customer went into the store and saw the phone was $299, that was all they knew. They did not take into account that the phone was actually more, but the carriers pulled a bait and switch by getting the customers to sign contracts that paid for the phone and then some. So when Google came around and offered the phone to be purchased upfront online, versus going into a carrier store, people were not feeling that. Especially when you had the Motorola Droid, that was running similar software, available on Verizon.
There was actually a reason Google went about the process of distributing their phones the way they did. First, it was originally a phone for employees. Google provided the phone but the employee was responsible for providing the phone service. Google would follow that same mindset when distributing the phone to the masses. And for us in the States, the GSM carriers we were able to use at the time were AT&T and T-Mobile, which for many was not an option given those company’s reliability compared to Verizon. Though rumors would later surface of a Verizon variant in the making.
One aspect of the Nexus One I did not realize were the bugs that initially plagued the device. When released, the phone suffered from 3G connectivity issues, an issue that would make its way into another nexus phone in the future with LTE radios.
The other issues to plague the phone came in the form of problems with the touchscreen, and later Wi-Fi issues that came when 2.2 Froyo was released. And with Google relegating support to forums, versus offering a store or personal support system, it’s no wonder the phone would not see the kind of sales that something like a Droid received.
Despite the issues, the nexus one would go on to be the inspiration for future android phones. As the nexus one introduced a number of hardware and software influences into the community. Sporting the 1 Ghz Snapdragon S1, 512 MB of memory, external storage up to 32 GB, Super LCD (though originally launched with a Super AMOLED display), 1400 mAh battery, and a 5 MP camera. Though now those specs wouldn’t even be able to compete with today’s budget phones, back in 2010 this phone was a beast. Nearly doubling the specs of the Motorola Droid in a number of categories. This phone was at the center of a lot of comparison videos. And it launched the start up and careers of a number of bloggers and youtubers.
On the software side, it would start the tradition of ushering in the newest version of Google’s Android software. Being the first to launch with 2.2 Froyo, Droid fans were craving seeing their Droid running Froyo. So much so that we saw a number of ports make its way to the Motorola Droid in the form of ROMs (aka customized software). In fact one could argue that the craze for getting a port of the nexus one software was what sparked the excitement around android phones. An entire movement and community was formed around who could bring the smoothest and best version of the software.
So what was so exciting about this Froyo that drove everyone bunkers?
Froyo would bring Adobe Flash 10.1 to android. That meant from my phone I could enjoy the exact same website that was designed for my computer. This would go on the be the catalyst of what Android fans would use as the reason why their platform was better than the iOS platform.
The other major software additions came in the form of live wallpapers and a new launcher design. The launcher would have this cube style animation when a person navigated through their home screen, which was increased from 3 pages to 5.
Despite all the praises given to the nexus one now, at the time it did not meet expectations. Mainly because Google could not convince people to move away from the traditions of going to the phone store down the street for purchase, support, and service of the phones they bought. Google wanted to move people to the era of relying on the carrier for phone service only.
At the time I felt that the reason Google failed was because they were just way ahead of their time. But now looking at the issues plaguing the phone, I think it may have been a good thing this phone had small numbers. I could only imagine the backlash Google would have felt if there were a mad rush of angry customers trashing the nexus one because customers were forced to rely on only forums for support. Even in this era of phones, where people are more comfortable about buying a phone online, a phone without any kind of real support will not last long among the customers.
Being a fan of the nexus line, I had been very critical of Verizon not bringing the phone to their carrier. Though a version of the phone would later become the HTC Droid Incredible, and the HTC Desire. A large number of fans never had the opportunity to personally use the phone themselves, and could only rely on the praises from bloggers and youtubers about its awesome display, processor, and the overall design of the phone. The nexus one showcased why HTC was considered the go-to company for phones in the day. And people envied that. But at the end of the day, it looks like the Motorola Droid may have been the overall better package when you factor in the support Verizon offered.