I was hoping to start posting in the New Year with something positive in the hope that the innovation landscape of 2010 would improve. But alas, experience has triumphed once again  over hope.

Things started looking up with the opening of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building which opened with a dramatic fireworks ceremony in the Gulf emirate of Dubai yesterday. At last, I thought, a project which re-establishes ambition in architecture and contains some construction innovations which will impact construction in the years ahead.

Then there was the astonishing announcement as reported on the BBC that Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope had detected its first five exoplanets, or planets beyond our Solar System. Aha, I thought, perhaps mankind’s ambition to explore and experiment beyond the known world will take a turn outwards…

Then there was the hullabaloo around Google’s announcement of its new handset, Nexus One . And as they say, things fell apart. Just a cursory examination of Nexus One coming from what has been one of the most innovative and dynamic companies in the world reveals that we’re still in the innovation doldrums.

An ‘i-Phone’ with half the battery life

Nexus One is simply a poor clone of the i-Phone with some incremental improvements and one notable shortcoming – battery life. The Nexus One comes equipped with a five-megapixel camera and a flash for taking shots in dark environments. (The 3G S i-Phone only has a three-megapixel camera and no flash). So the Nexus has a light sensor designed to detect how bright an environment is enabling the device to adjust its screen brightness accordingly, to save battery life, which is a very necessary capability given the remarkable fact that the Nexus One has half the battery life capacity of the i-Phone – which has always been the i-Phone’s achilles heel.

Of course one can discuss Android and the open ecosystem Google are building which will certainly triumph Apple’s closed system in the long-term. And there are many things to speculate about in terms of future business models.

But at the most basic level there is a fundamental question: Why does a company like Google not invest in research to help solve the achilles heel of all mobile communications: namely, short battery life?

What Goolge have signalled with Nexus One is that they are followers rather than leaders in the mobile communication space. More importantly, they are not solving key user problems but are thinking about their business models and focusing on their competitors instead.

The i-Phone at least transformed the mobile communication user interface by introducing an effective touchscreen and a navigation system that is instinctive and simple to use. Nexus One has not advanced this nor any other dimension of the user experience. While the device can be bought unlocked, the telephony experience at the heart of the device still remains tied to the existing mobile operator’s capabilities – capabilities that have not altered the communications experience in any significant way for the past Century.

From what I can tell from the launch as described by the Washington Post , the only really innovative thing was the Google demonstrators who appear to have been wearing white lab coats (see the photo gallery here). Cute indeed, but worrying. The biggest concern is that Nexus One represents Google’s descent into mediocrity, dressed up in white lab coats, but mediocre nevertheless.

The innovation prospects for 2010 are looking slim I’m afraid.


  1. I have to be abit obtuse and disagree. The Nexus as a first departure into hardware may not be earth shattering, but the innovation surely comes from two sources unconnected with the phone’s design. The business model of providing the OS to other handset manufacturers. An OS which my friends in the business tell me is a dream to work with. The second route is the fact they retail the handset direct to consumers.
    Both innovations may be peripheral if Google are not brave enough in their application… for example in squaring the price/margin battle with distributors – but it is innovation.
    If Google’s intention is not to enter the hardware market but simply to get enough of its handset out their to set up Android as a significant player then we can all look forward to cheap smart phones and sod the networks.

  2. I agree that h/w or HCI wise, Nexus isn’t groundbreaking – pretty much following Apple’s footprint. But as Apple does such a great job at transforming the HCI, we can observe clearly Google did some thinking on differentiating from iPhone, e.g. it’s 3.7” screen is way better than its “friendly” competitor’s. Notably Nexus does not come with a multi-touch panel, instead of a single touch with a software scale on the side. Plus, it attracts the Blackberry community by having the rolling ball as an alternative for people not comfortable with touch.

    Also, ordinary users are still, in their daily experience with iPhone-like’s, discovering what’s possible with a 3.5” multi-touch panel, which means the excitement among users is still high. It’s not impossible for Google to consider the question that how much better users need at this point, or how much users could absorb another major change in a phone. One could argue the 3d gestures or anywhere projection is the future but they comes with appropriate apps, such as real time video or mobile gaming. Those things are on the horizon but surely far away for market adoption.

    In my opinion, the biggest idea behind Google’s Nexus is Google Voice which is very disruptive to the current telecom landscape. Apple rejects the Google Voice app on its iPhone which makes Google really wants to go ahead with its own platform. With Android being open-source and Google’s massive API base(80+ on, Google is transforming World’s programmers to its employees. In this sense, Google’s Android is Microsoft’s Windows 20 years ago, but this time it comes with a price tag zero. With major advertisement case behind, Google can afford to do so which is an true innovation in the business model.

    I am really curious about what does an ex-telecom leader like yourself think about it.

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