Google missed out on a great opportunity to hype the arrival of the Nexus 4 when it was forced to cancel its October 29 event. Undeterred, the company went forward with a bit of a stealth launch, pushing the Nexus 4 (along with the Nexus 10 and cell-enabled Nexus 7) product page live even without a formal unveiling ceremony. As soon as we saw just how affordably Google planned to offer the hardware, it was clear that the Nexus 4 was going to be hugely popular. Problem was, it might have ended up getting a little too popular, and when the phone finally went up for sale on November 13, it sold out in a heartbeat. While that left plenty of Android fans without the new phone they were hoping for, I can’t help but think that the way Google handled all of this is ultimately going to be to its benefit, and shows the company capitalizing on a less-than-ideal situation.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that there’s anything so nefarious going on here as Google or LG artificially holding back on Nexus 4 stocks in order to create the appearance of a shortage. If that is what’s happening, we haven’t seen any evidence to support it. Instead, just like how Google didn’t let a hurricane keep it from introducing its latest project to the world, it wasn’t about to let supply chain issues keep it from meeting its launch schedule.
The timing of all this, from the phone’s introduction, to the start of sales, is hugely important. We just got done wrapping-up one of the year’s busiest retail weekends, and that means a lot of people buying new smartphones. Google had to be aware of this, and I think it’s something the company considered when it started selling the Nexus 4 with limited supplies on-hand.
I saw a lot of backlash from other writers and smartphone fans about how poorly Google managed those day-one sales. Sure, a company with the kind of computing cred Google enjoys should have been able to put together a much more reliable server, without all the hiccups and inconsistencies we noticed, but I think Google absolutely did the right thing by starting Nexus 4 sales even when it was unable to meet customer demand.
If we’re going by the assumption that the Nexus 4 actually was in short supply when sales launched, what exactly would those nay-sayers suggest Google do? Wait until it could finally put together the hardware numbers needed to meet the phone’s demand? Sure, that might make the whole Nexus purchasing experience go a whole lot more smoothly, but Google would risk losing out on some sales to users who got tired of waiting and jumped on a Black Friday deal, instead.
Ultimately, what Google did here works for several reasons:
- The initial order problems created a buzz – the Nexus 4 is SO popular that it’s pushing the limits of what Google’s machines are able to handle. Hearing that some people were able to place orders, while others weren’t, served to make the phone seem both highly desirable and like a prize that has to be won; it’s not enough to want a Nexus 4 – the stars need to align just right for you to place that order.
- Dedicated users were still able to get their orders in, even with the phone on back-order. That kept them from straying during the temptation of Black Friday. At the same time, not opening the floodgates of full-on pre-orders let Google arrange for the stock it needed without being overwhelmed.
- The whole saga isn’t going to be remembered as “Google sucked at selling a phone” but “everybody wanted a Nexus 4”. Without the ability to create lines like Apple gets outside its retail stores when a new iPhone goes up for sale, this will serve as comparable press. Sure, there aren’t any great photo-ops to go along with something like this, but coverage of this launch is still important to show that Android is more than just a non-iPhone workhorse, and that plenty of users can get excited over one of its high-profile device launches.
What could Google have maybe done a little better? That’s a tricky question, and it’s difficult to meaningfully answer without knowing more about Google’s interactions with LG and its manufacturing chain. Based on what I’ve been able to infer from observations of what’s happened, I’m hard-pressed to come up with a better alternative. Obviously, “having enough phones so everyone who wanted one could buy a Nexus 4 on day one” would have been nice, but considering the realities of a launch like this, I get the impression that Google played the best hand it was dealt.