While the world breathlessly watched Steve Jobs rationalize why the iPhone 4’s antenna reception problems aren’t any worse than other smartphones, Google (GOOG) last Friday quietly discontinued online sales of its once-heralded Nexus One.
A major story any other week, Google within hours of Apple’s (AAPL) press conference published on its blog that “the Nexus One will no longer be available online from Google” once the company sells out its latest shipment of devices.
The fact that the most prominent technology company of the first decade of the 21st Century could not develop more than a “niche channel” for its web store and signature smartphone is undoubtedly a setback. However, since the Nexus One debuted in January,Google’s Android mobile operating system has emerged as Apple’s most formidable competitor in smartphone computing.
After a slow start, today there are more Android-powered mobile devices sold than iPhones. Moving forward, it makes more strategic sense for Google CEO Erik Schmidt to cozy up to the likes of Motorola (MOT), Verizon (VZ), Sprint (S) and HTC (2498.TW) than it does to concentrate on his company’s own fledgling device.
While Android-powered devices like the Verizon and Motorola’s Droid X and Sprint’s HTC’s Evo lack the pop cultural cachet of the iPhone, they offer many popular and innovative features consumers increasingly expect (and also reliably place phone calls). Even before Apple’s iPhone 4 public relations meltdown, 2010 was already becoming Google’s year in mobile.
With the Nexus One joining Microsoft’s Kin as smartphones that were born and discontinued in 2010, Google more clearly than ever looks like it will emerge as the Microsoft of mobile. As Microsoft stakeholders of the last quarter century can attest, there are worse places to be.
Expect market share for Android phones to rise as the more innovative iPhone continues to flourish as the Mac-like alternative in your pocket. Either way, consumers win.