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I get it. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when the common wheel works just fine. But why is it that everyone is copying Apple’s iPhone? Is there a certain sense for excitement, for something new and better only at Apple? Add Google to the list of iPhone imitators: If you don’t like the arrogance of Apple, but are jealous of all those flaunting their iPhones, the Nexus One from Google is probably the best you can do. That is, of course, if you don’t depend on texting and if you don’t like Blackberrys.
Google’s Nexus One isn’t just a phone. It is a ‘superphone’, the company says. I am not quite understanding why. Don’t get me wrong, the device is, subjectively, one of the best phones you can buy today, but calling it ‘super’ may be a bit too much. Buying a smartphone today is a matter of purpose. If it is texting you focus on, then Blackberrys are tough to beat. If it is Internet, it does not get much better than the iPhone, because of its large touch screen and ingenious two-finger zoom feature. And if it is style and prestige, you simply have to buy an iPhone and swallow the outrageous fees AT&T will charge you every month.
It has been fascinating to see how Apple was able to blow an entire industry out of the water with a revolutionary phone and how companies that are several times the size of Apple have been incapable for more than 2 years to come up with a phone that enhances the iPhone concept. I am still wondering when we will get an iPhone-like device with a physical keyboard, voice recognition that actually works, a choice of service providers and interfaces that do not highlight the complexity of today’s phones, but hide it.
Google took an Apple approach to building a phone – software first and hardware second. The first phone, the HTC-built G1 sold by T-Mobile, isn’t quite what Google imagined an iPhone alternative to be (but then, the first ‘iPhone’, Motorola’s Rokr phone, was Apple’s idea of an i(Tunes) Phone as well.) The (HTC-built) Nexus One is closer to the iPhone. It looks like more like an iPhone, it feels more like an iPhone, but if you have held an iPhone in your hands before, you may wonder: Why exactly is this phone better than the iPhone? Well, it isn’t.
You get much of the same. A 3.7” (slightly larger than the iPhone) touchscreen (with a higher resolution), a 5 megapixel camera with video recording capability, wireless broadband connectivity and GPS positioning, a digital compass and an accelerometer that turns the screen from portrait to landscape mode depending on how you hold the phone. It comes with a 4 GB memory card top store images and, if you want, about 1000 songs. If you like to buy a phone, you can buy it directly via Google, either as an unlocked version (without service contract) for $529 or for $179 with a 2-year service contract with T-Mobile.
Google says that the unlocked version will work with SIM cards from “any service provider” (which means you can simply remove the card from your old GSM phone and pop it into the Nexus One). But, unfortunately, the phone will not work with AT&T in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada. I don’t buy that it is a pure accident that the phone does not work with AT&T. The service provider restriction scheme in North America is clearly out of hand.
It is time for the U.S. government to regulate the cellphone industry and allow U.S. consumers to operate their phones with the service provider of their choice as long as the technology is supported.
So, from a visual point of view, the Nexus One is an iPhone copy. From a technology point of view, it is an iPhone copy. From a service provider restriction view, it is an iPhone copy. The only difference is that the phone runs Google’s own operating system, which may feel a bit like the iPhone operating system as well. The conclusion: The Nexus One is just another iPhone copy, albeit a good one, and it does not take much to see that it will be remembered as a missed opportunity for Google to challenge Apple. Just like all other iPhone copies, the Nexus One will come and go. The iPhone will stay.