Google Nexus 4: Play Store debacle gives buyers the Backorder Blues

As if the mess that Google calls its Play Store yesterday wasn't bad enough, now many buyers are getting conflicting emails about 3-week backorders.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

I wasn't exactly generous yesterday in my descriptions of the Google Play Store as it melted down for users first in Europe and then in the US trying to buy a new Nexus 4. It was a mess of the first degree and I continue to wonder why Google, arguably the most powerful and successful Internet company in the world, can't seem to get e-commerce right. I was slightly mollified when I, like many other hopeful buyers, managed to push through an order well after other news outlets were reporting that the phones had sold out. It still wasn't a user experience to write home about, but at least a bunch of us got our phones, right?

According to our backend analytics here at ZDNet, almost 40,000 people read that article, telling buyers not to give up just yet. I received elated emails and tweets from people thanking me for the article and telling me that they had also finally been able to order their phones.

So to anyone who read the article, jumped back on the Play Store, and bought yourself a Nexus 4, I'm sorry. Because, most likely, you got an email today much like mine:


A lot of people who didn't read my article also are receiving this email today instead of the expected UPS tracking number and shipment confirmation they were expected. So now it's time for a rant.

Hey, Google! What the hell??!?! Honestly, I'm not upset that  that the phone is in huge demand. I'm not upset that they sold out far faster than expected or that they just didn't have enough supply. That's great for Google, great for Android, and great for wireless in the US where carriers have a stranglehold on the market. I'm freaking thrilled, in fact, that the market is embracing a new model for buying phones and sticking it to the carriers who have been totally ubstructionist to updates and have, in many ways, crippled Android over and over on phone after phone.

I'm angry because this is bloody Google - You'd think they could figure out how to handle peak loads and ecommerce at least as well as Apple. Google locates their datacenters near hydroelectric dams for God's sake so that they can access enough power to keep the world searching, to process the 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and to crunch enough data to automatically give me directions to my various destinations as I hop into my car for an appointment.

And yet Google couldn't switch from "Ships in 3-5 days" in the Play Store to "Sold Out" several hours after their stock had been depleted. Google didn't know the difference between "Coming soon" and "Sold Out" and actually let people continue buying phones long after they had all been gobbled up.

Google didn't have the sense to limit numbers of purchases to one or two per household and the situation was exacerbated because the miserable excuse for a storefront that they call the Play Store was such a disaster at peak load that people were buying two or three phones accidentally.

Google has enough information from the nation's aggregated searches to track influenza outbreaks faster and more accurately than the CDC and yet they didn't anticipate demand for a $300 unlocked superphone running the latest version of Android. Gee, Google, do you think a few people might want one of those? They certainly knew I did based on the search and social data I happily and consensually share with them every day through my Google account.

Google can track the movement of illegal weapons worldwide better than our own government who should really be in a position to know about the weapons trade. And yet, when I sent an email today checking on the status of my order, just moments before I received that backorder email, the automated response cheerily told me that my phone should ship today and that I would have a UPS tracking number by tomorrow.

Why is this so damned hard for a company that is probably better than any other at processing data? Why, for a company that pioneered large-scale failover and redundancy and can shift literally petaflops of processing power among its various datacenters worldwide, could it not handle demand for a phone? Have you ever gotten an email from Apple saying, "Gosh, so sorry, we didn't think many of you would actually want a freaking iPhone so we didn't bother scaling our ecommerce systems or building a kajillion phones, so even though we told you that you got one, we were wrong so now you'll have to wait a while"? No, probably not.

Google finally discovers the secret sauce for Android and turning the wireless industry on its ears only to be derailed because its online store choked. Really? Seriously? Because Google didn't have the scalability or computing muscle to handle a spike on a few of their several hundred thousand servers? Because there weren't any Google engineers smart enough to figure out a better way to do ecommerce? Despite being able to auction millions of ads in real time? Really?

Ridiculous. Just ridiculous. Google, if you're listening (and I know you are, since you already know virtually every move I make), please go buy a company that knows how to sell things on the Internet. There's one or two (or 100) that do it fairly well.

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