It came, went, returned and vanished again: the elusive Nexus 4 went back on sale on Tuesday afternoon in the UK and Germany, and the 8GB version is now sold out again.
I was one of the lucky few to place an order in what must have been a pretty brief window of opportunity, albeit longer than the original availability period of, oh, whole minutes. There I was at 5pm, mashing away at the order button, having a spark of faith that I would break through the "Due to high demand, your order could not be processed. Please try again later" barrier, and indeed I did.
I know that button-mashing helped confuse the system for others, but situations such as those are really every-man-for-himself. Apologies.
At the time of ordering — I got through around 5.15pm CET, for I live in Germany — I was told it would take one-to-two weeks for the phone to be delivered. Hours later, when I checked through a different browser (the Play Store wouldn't even show me availability again while I was logged in, as I had "reached the limit for this item"), it was predicting a mind-boggling five-to-six weeks for anyone ordering at that point. That's still the case for the 16GB version. The 8GB version is sold out.
To Google's credit, the company seems to have learned its lesson about giving clear information to prospective customers. The first time the Nexus 4 sold out, last month, there was an hours-long period during which the Play Store described the phone as "coming soon" as though it had never gone on sale, despite the fact that it had.
However, it remains clear that something is still going wrong. The Nexus 4 is a low-priced flagship, which is odd but a good explanation for its massive popularity — popularity that Google must surely have been able to predict.
I've still not worked out what the problem is. If it's a supply chain issue, then that would be the simplest explanation, and one that should see Google scrambling. This above all is the area in which Apple excels, and Google's just looking bad here.
But I can't help but feel that the Nexus 4's scanty availability has something to do with its pricing. That low price point — the 8GB version costs just £239 — must have severely irked the operators, as for many people it will be a no-brainer to pick up the handset unsubsidised and use it with a no-contract, pay-as-you-go deal. Which is precisely what I shall be doing, as it's a much cheaper alternative to a contract (telcos charge the Earth here in Deutschland).
Was there pushback? Is Google losing so much money on each Nexus 4 that it doesn't want to sell too many? It's impossible to tell at this point. The only thing I can say is that, if Google had a strategy with the Nexus 4 and its pricing, it was implemented in a half-hearted and confused manner at best.
If Google had a strategy with the Nexus 4 and its pricing, it was implemented in a half-hearted and confused manner at best
Because, right now, the effect of the Nexus 4 is not positive for Google. After the handset sold out the first time, I looked around at the Android landscape and scoped out a few more high-end devices, only to turn away because they just seemed so expensive in comparison. I didn't buy those smartphones from Google's OEM partners, and I couldn't buy the Nexus 4.
In other words, I wasn't buying anything, until yesterday, when I only happened to get my order through as a result of being sat in front of my computer at the right time. If I'd been otherwise engaged for the afternoon and early evening, I would have been right back where I started: I myself opted for the 16GB version, but I consider five-to-six weeks' estimated delivery time as being roughly equivalent to "out of stock", for practical purposes.
That is not an optimal way of doing business.