Is the Nexus One a bad call by Google?

The launch of Google’s first branded smartphone – built by HTC and sold directly through Google’s website – undoubtedly led to a few shivers in the boardrooms of Samsung, Motorola and Sony Ericsson.

While those companies had created well-received Android phones, the impression left was of Google crashing the party to show them how it was done.

Not surprisingly, it was an allegation strongly refuted by Google. “It’s not our objective to compete with our partners,” said a spokesperson. “Our expectation is that the Nexus One will push the mobile ecosystem forward, driving greater innovation and consumer choice.”

While that platitude was undoubtedly intended to settle nerves, the language used at the launch of the Nexus One was far more provocative. After all, if your phone is a “superphone” and “the next stage in the evolution of Android”, what does that imply about the rest?

“Google’s just admitted that not all Android phones are created equal,” Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Interpret, told PC Pro after the launch. “Motorola customers can’t be feeling too good right now.”

Motorola – publicly at least – remains bullish. Although the company doesn’t give out sales figures, industry watchers have predicted that anywhere between 100,000 and 250,000 Droid phones were sold in the US during its first week. Motorola has declared itself “very pleased” with its first Android phone, and if it’s worried about Google’s decision to dive-bomb the market, it’s keeping those jitters to itself.

Droid

“This announcement really adds a lot of impetus to the Android ecosystem, and this is just the first in a series of devices that Google in inverted commas is releasing and, you know what, Motorola will participate in that as well,” said Motorola’s director of marketing Tom Satchwell. “I think, really, this isn’t about the operating system, it’s about establishing a new channel to market – and that’s really exciting for all of us.”

However, a quick scan around Motorola’s rivals reveals the situation isn’t quite as rosy as Satchwell would have us believe. The day after the covers came off the Nexus One, Sony Ericsson broke the news that its widely anticipated Xperia 2 – powered by Android – wouldn’t be released in the UK.

The company was tight-lipped on the reasons for the cancellation, claiming only that the smartphone “no longer fits with our planned portfolio”.

Analysts claim the withdrawal could prove symptomatic of the awkward new relationship between smartphone makers and the search giant. “The relationship with partners is key, because some of them are going to start asking what’s going to happen to the platform?” said Carolina Milanesi, research director at Gartner.

“Nokia open-sourced Symbian, but the impression among rival manufacturers was always that it had a head start [with the OS]. And now Google is in the same boat. Google can come to market with handsets running the latest release of Android, but how long will it take manufacturers to catch up? Sony Ericsson’s Xperia was coming to market with Android 1.6 and the Nexus One is on 2.1 – the Xperia 2 was already three generations behind at launch,” she concluded.

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