The trials and tribulations of buying a Nexus 4


As you may have already heard, Google announced that they were releasing their new Google “vanilla” Android smart phone called Nexus 4 on November 13, 2012. This phone is pretty special since it runs unadulterated Android. There’s no skin lying on top of Android and carriers can’t put bloatware on it. This is pure Android as Google envisions it. The only phones with pure Android versions are the much talked about Nexus phones. Manufacturers believe that they need to create “value added” or “differentiate” their phones by creating their own skin and putting it on top of Android. The most popular skins are HTC’s Sense UI, Motorola’s crapstastic skin previously known as Motoblur, Samsung’s Touchwiz, Sony’s unnamed UI and LG’s Optimus UI. It is the opinion of this writer that all of those manufacturers are wrong. Users don’t buy HTC phones because of Sense UI. They buy HTC phones despite Sense UI. If we forget about the tech geeks and focus on the general public, the masses do not care what version of Android their phone is running. The only thing that they care about is if the Android phone is stable, fast, has interesting features, looks nice and can be easily updated (maybe). Vanilla Android has all of these characteristics. At the very least, the manufacturers should allow users the ability to turn off the skin, but I digress.

With the Nexus 4, you get the latest and greatest Android phone money can buy today. You get Android 4.2 with all of its new features (as wonderfully reviewed by Anandtech here). You get updates pushed directly from Google (instead of waiting for the carrier or the manufacturer to update) The phone is unlocked and supports pentaband frequencies. This means that it can be used with pretty much every carrier in Canada (well, except for Public Mobile). It’s unheard of for such a phone to sell for $299 USD or $309 CAD. It costs about half as much as anything comparable. Some people even think that the Nexus 4 price is too low and it will eventually hurt the industry (see here)

In an interesting move, Google decided not to a do a pre-order like they did with the Nexus 7–probably because the Nexus 7 pre-order was a clusterfuck. Users that pre-ordered the Nexus 7 didn’t receive their tablets until 2-3 weeks after it was available for purchase at brick and mortar stores (e.g. Staples, NCIX, etc). The tech geeks were not happy. These users could’ve walked into a store and pick up a Nexus 7, but instead they were stuck with pre-order that didn’t have a shipping date and Google refused/couldn’t cancel their order. Google’s only suggestion was to refuse shipment from the shipping company or to return the device after they received it. I think that angering your most devoted and loyal fan base is not sound business practice.

If a Nexus 4 pre-order would be as badly managed as the Nexus 7 pre-order maybe it’s for the best that they removed the option. Therefore, there’s no pre-order for the Nexus 4. It will be available for purchase starting on launch day only.

There was a lot of speculation on how successful the Nexus 4 launch would be. Geeks on XDA speculated that other than the fellow XDA members and a few other geeks, no one has even heard of the Nexus 4. They would be really surprised if it sold out. The rationale was that there is no marketing campaign. There is no carrier subsidy (most people only buy phones through their carriers). You can’t try out the phone or touch the phone before ordering. In all likelihood, the Nexus 4 will never be sold at most carriers. Carriers would likely pretend that it doesn’t exist or try to crush it any way that they can. The reasoning was that only tech geeks that read tech blogs would know that the Nexus 4 exists. This is a developer phone after all, it doesn’t appeal to the mainstream consumer. Well, that’s the theory.

It’s early in the day on November 13, 2012 and anxious users have been bombarding Google’s customer support lines asking them when the Nexus 4 will be released. Most of the reps confirmed that it will be available at 12am PST (midnight in California) which is 3am EST (Toronto). Some users have called Google 4-5 times to speak with different representatives and most of them confirmed this launch time.

Let the games begin.

Instead of pushing F5 to refresh the Google Play store page, users recommended installing a chrome extension called “Page Monitor“. You can set the extension to monitor a specified webpage and check at a specified interval for any changes. The extension will pop up a notification or make a sound once the monitored page has been changed. Smart users would’ve configured their browser this way, set volume to max and gone to sleep and that would’ve been that. However, I was not that clever. I stayed up to watch the carnage unfold.

I followed three main forum threads to get the latest gossip/news from users around the world: 1) XDA-developers (500,000 views and 5,000 replies), 2) RedFlagDeals (370,000 views and 3,700 replies) 3) SlickDeals (450,000 views and 4,000 replies). I’ve never seen this kind of forum activity for a device that hasn’t even been launched yet. It’s hard to imagine how geeks can post thousands of messages discussing a product that’s not even on sale yet. They were discussing strategies on how to secure one, availability of accessories, taxes, shipping origins, shipping times, release schedules, duties, etc. Truly remarkable.

It’s 2:59 EST, the moment of truth is coming near. Set your browsers to refresh. The tension is unbearable.

In a strategic move, I decided to join a chat room started by an XDA user to watch the event unfold. I figure that information will pass through the chat room faster than any forum post. Also, it’s interesting to see people’s thoughts and reactions in real time.

Below is a screen capture of the chat room at 2:59 am EST till 3:08am EST

 

As you can see, the mob is angry. I remember that one user commented that he had a chemistry exam the next day which he was going to fail because he spent all night trying to buy a phone that was not for sale. Another user said that they were in near tears due to sheer exhaustion, sleepiness and hopelessness. I can relate.

By this time, all of the chat room users know that Australia has already sold out of Nexus 4′s in 22 minutes. Some time passes and Nexus 4′s start appearing in Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and France. Reports are coming in from XDA that devices are selling out within minutes. Google’s European servers are crashing. Users are becoming irate. Reports say that users can’t add devices to cart, they can’t check out, they’re getting multiple errors. The shit is hitting the fan. The servers can’t keep up.

To kill time, I check the various European Google play stores by routing my traffic through various VPN’s. I can confirm that they are indeed sold out in most countries in Europe.

It’s now 4:00 am EST and it seems to be sold out everywhere. I stay up hoping that perhaps it will launch in the United States and Canada soon after a “successful” launch in Europe. By 4:30 am EST, I accept the fact that I’ve wasted my entire night and set Page Monitor and go to sleep holding my laptop closely.

It’s 8:30 am EST, I wake up and quickly check the Google Play store (Canada). It’s still not available. I’m relieved that I didn’t miss the launch window. There’s still hope.

It’s 9:30 am EST, I start reading the tech blogs and discover that new reports are coming in from Google reps that they will launch at 9:00 am PST. I know that a shit storm is coming. The device will launch at noon EST. That’s lunch time, peak traffic time.  I foresee a lot of competition. I start to prepare myself mentally that it wasn’t meant to be. I realize now that the chance of getting my order through will be near zero. However, I’ve put in too much time and effort to give up now. I must keep going.

The Google Play store sends each user a different country specific store depending on the user’s IP address. Unfortunately, my office has a US IP address and I don’t have a cell phone and I need to purchase the device through the Canadian Play store. How am I going to even attempt to order this thing? Starbucks is the answer. I will use my ipad mini and access their free wifi at noon and hope for the best.

I was planning to leave to Starbucks at 11:45 am EST, but I received a notification from Page Monitor that the product page has been updated. Holy shit! It’s now approximately 11:35 am EST and I’m not in position yet. I run out of the office towards Starbucks. I’m thinking that this not looking good. I blew it. I was not prepared. Google caught me off guard by releasing it early. You sneaky son of a bitch.

I see Starbucks from afar. I frantically turn on my wifi on my ipad mini and connect to their network while running towards it. I type furiously on my ipad mini keyboard trying to sign into my Google account all the while trying not to bump into people. I figure that a few seconds here and there could make the difference between success and failure. I am now close enough to Starbucks to get a solid connection. I take a second to look around to see if anyone is doing the same thing as me. Nope. Only serious business people going about their business. I am special. I struggle for a bit adding the Nexus device to my cart. I completely ignore the available bumper as I didn’t want to waste precious seconds. The device has been added to cart, yes! On the checkout page, I set the order to 2 devices. I select the shipping address and my payment method, push submit. I’m waiting impatiently for the page to do something. For the love of god, don’t fail me now! Surprisingly, the order was accepted and completed. HALLELUJAH! I did not waste 10 hours of my life for nothing (well, that’s subjective. We are talking about a phone here). I will be the proud owner of 2 Nexus 4 8GB this coming Friday or Monday. After reading all of the issues people were having in Europe, Google must have been better prepared for the North American launch. It was pretty painless. I’m shocked, but overjoyed. Before I celebrated any further, I checked my Google Wallet to confirm that there’s a pending transaction. Yes, it’s there. I receive a confirmation email shortly afterwards. I did it.


I often asked myself why did I have an easier time than others in my city? I suspect that it’s part luck, but also perhaps because I was using Google chrome (albeit on the ipad mini) and my shipping address and credit card information were already entered into my Google wallet. I hear that some users struggled using different browsers or trying to enter their credit card information during the checkout phase. I lucked out.

I head back to the office and I receive a few emails from my friend entitled “aaaaaaaaand it’s gone..” What is he talking about? It can’t be. The time stamp of the email was 11:49 am EST. Apparently, Nexus 4 sold out in Canada within minutes. I can see why a lot of users are upset that the device is sold out. It left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths that it was sold out at 11:49 am EST when the Google reps said repeatedly that it was going to go on sale at noon. I believe that Google calls this a “surprise sale”. I successfully bought 2 Nexus 4′s, but the whole ordeal seems unpleasant to say the least. I know that I easily could have been one of the others.

I love “nerd rage” and there is a lot to go around this time around. All that you have to do is go any of the comments section of any Nexus 4 launch article, Google+ Nexus article or to any of the above forums and look at any random posts. 90% of the time, it’s going to be nerd rage.

This clusterfuck reminds me of the time that HP announced that they were going to be auctioning off various HP Touchpads for $99 on eBay last year (see story). I participated in this event as well, but I was not nearly as successful. I remember that I had 8 tabs open trying to push “buy it now” to no avail. eBay was mostly non-responsive. The geeks had inadvertently DDoS’d eBay. This is similar to what was happening here today at Google. Except, I am a lot less forgiving for Google. Google is the 2nd largest technology company in the world with a market cap of $250 billion (see story) and by some accounts they may have more servers than anyone else in the world, perhaps 1.7 million servers by some estimates (see story). Nobody really knows how many servers Google has, but it has had at least more than a million servers by 2008 (although not necessarily running all at once). To put this into perspective, Facebook has an estimated 180,000 servers (see story)  Google welcomed a Wired reporter to take a look into one of their closely guarded datacenter recently–looks mighty impressive (see story). I find that it strange that Google can handle 2 billion searches a day, but it can’t handle an e-commerce store that sells 6 items? Something’s not right.

At around 2pm EST, Google updated their Google+ page to report that:

“There’s been so much interest for the Nexus lineup that we’ve sold out of some of our initial stock in a few countries! We are working hard to add more Nexus devices to Google Play in the coming weeks to keep up with the high demand. You can learn more about Nexus devices and stay updated at (see link).

If you read the comments on that page, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I mention nerd rage. It’s interesting that Google considers such a launch “successful” when they successfully alienated many of their die hard fans. I know some people that were so put off by the entire experience that they swear to never buy another Google product again. To be honest, I can’t really blame them.

For example, Google prominently displayed a box on the product page so that you can enter in your email address to be notified when it’s available for purchase. Google never sent such an email. I didn’t receive one and a lot of other people didn’t receive one either. Thanks for the email Google.

I wrote this post because I was surprised that so few professional bloggers were writing about the clusterfuck that is the Nexus 4 product launch. I checked TheVerge, Engadget, etc. and they had 50 word reports. In my opinion, to report that the Nexus 4 is sold out does not accurately convey the situation with sufficient context.

Google put a limit of 5 devices per user. After the European debacle, I would’ve thought that they would limit each user to 1 device, but that didn’t happen and a lot of people came up empty handed. A lot of users bought multiple items for the sole of purpose of reselling them at a profit. It’s a bit unseemly, but it’s the free market at work–what can you do. My general view is that if you don’t like the inflated price, don’t buy it. I believe in the free markets. However, Google should’ve limited the number of devices sold per user to discourage this practice. The average price on Toronto Kijiji for the 8GB is $450 and $550 for the 16GB. Apparently, the 16GB sold out much quicker than the 8GB, almost at 2:1. I guess people really needed the extra space for games and media content.

10:00 pm  EST , the Google Play store has been updated. The Nexus 4 is now marked as sold out. At least people can stop refreshing the product page now. I think that they should’ve done this a long time ago. Prior to this, they still had the “please notify me when the device is available” button. Please don’t give people false hope. To be fair, devices did become available sporadically throughout the day. Therefore, users were still refreshing late into the afternoon in the hopes of catching a device that is freed by an order cancellation.

Why did Google do a stagger release? Why didn’t they stick to their launch time? How many units were available for sale? Was all of this a marketing ploy? I think that Google did a stagger release to ease the burden on their servers. I don’t see any other reason. I’m not exactly sure why they pushed the button early in Canada and USA, I don’t see any obvious benefit. Users have wondered if Google intentionally kept low inventory for the purpose of creating scarcity to get free publicity and rev up demand. I don’t know. Google is either incompetent or they’re marketing geniuses and I don’t think that they’re marketing geniuses. Making so many of their most loyal and devoted fans feel upset and cheated is not a good long term strategy and Google only thinks long term. Apple’s product launches are much smoother, but they have been doing this for a much longer time. I just hope that Google has learned a thing or two from this experience. For example, I pre-ordered the ipad mini 16GB a week before launch and it shipped a day before the official launch date and I received it by 10am on launch day. That’s how you coordinate a product launch. Google, I’m putting you on notice. Get your shit together.

I’ll leave you with this video (found on XDA).

Update 1: Welcome redditors!

Update 2: Check out this great article on betanews entitled Google blows Nexus devices launch

Update 3: Youtube video has been fixed.

Update 4: There is a chrome extension that will automatically refresh the product page and automatically add the nexus 4 to cart if available! Thanks Wilson Lam (RFD). It’s called Nexus 4 Autorefresher

Apparently, Google only had 1 server processing the play store orders?

“I just spoke with Google about the #nexus4  launch.
Please be patient.  The Google Play Orders are based on one server, which understandably got bombarded.  In addition to that, they are being cautious about orders.  They learned their lesson with the #nexus7  launch, and are trying hard to avoid the same backlog of orders.  Part of that is auditing the orders.  Another part of that is their experience in Australia and the UK, in which the phones sold out in just over 20 minutes each time. One incident was cited this morning in which a guy had 10 orders…of 4 phones…all processed withing 13 seconds of one another.  I’m sure you can understand the issue there.” (source)

Also, Due to overwhelming worldwide demand, Google has nixed the Nexus 4 launch in Belgium and Netherlands. Oh oh. (source)

What’s the difference between an Apple and Nexus 4 launch? Answer.

Update 5: Wow, over 5,000 visitors from 89 countries within 24 hours! Incredible!

Update 6: Google begins informing Nexus 4 buyers of backordered shipments of up to 3 weeks. This has affected Canadian, US and European orders. Just when you thought that this product launch couldn’t get any worse, this happens. It appears that Google sold more units than they have in stock. It’s almost like if Google doesn’t know how much inventory it has? Do they know what they’re doing? Also, why did it take 2 days for them to figure this out? It’s really hard to put into words how badly they messed up this product launch. I expect so much from Google, but they have failed oh so miserably here. (source) If you’re wondering how many people received this dreaded backordered email from Google? a lot! (source).

 Update 7: Looks like I’m one of the lucky few! I just received a shipping confirmation from Google and a tracking number! Geez, buying a Nexus 4 is like trying to find a unicorn in the wild! It’s pretty darn hard.

Update 8: ZDnet has a good article on the Nexus 4 debacale entitled Google Nexus 4: Play Store debacle gives buyers the Backorder Blues. It’s a good read.

 Update: 9: If the low inventory was a marketing scheme, why didn’t Google release their sales numbers yet? If the mishaps were caused by incompetence, why didn’t Google issue an apology yet? After discussing it with my friend (the one that swore never to buy another Google product), the answer seems clear. Right now, the legions of disgruntled fans are still a small minority with a small voice (at most, it’s just a couple hundred thousand people complaining on forums). This product launch failure is not being covered by any mainstream media. Only a few tech blogs were brave enough to really comment on the situation. Did you notice how TheVerge and Engadget were eerily silent and did not make a single criticism of Google or of the Nexus 4 launch (please correct me if I’m wrong)? I guess they were afraid of losing favor with the big cahuna. I just wanted to say great coverage guys! I think that if Google issued an apology, it would make headline news around the world (millions of people would hear about how Google messed up a product launch).  Therefore, we believe that Google’s strategy is to do absolutely nothing. No press release. No apology. Google will stay as silent as possible, hoping that all of this will blow over with as little negative PR as possible. This is like a little boy hiding in his closet from his parents hoping that they will forget about what he did. LOL @ Google

Update 10: UPS has dropped off the babies. They’re beautiful.

 

Update 11: Ebay imposes new stricter rules for Google Nexus 4 sellers

  • http://www.wilsonlam.ca Wilson

    Great post. A very enjoyable read.

    • David Ha

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it!

  • Bakaouji

    I’m in Australia, and we heard many conflicting reports on the time it would be available. I checked at 12am, 1am, 5am,6am,8am,10am onwards, and JUST missed it when it went up after noon as I was away from my computer then.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see more people writing about the epic fail that was the Nexus 4 launch. Like yourself, i was surprised to see hardly anyone writing anything than “Nexus 4 is sold out now”.

  • Pablo

    So wanted my Nexus. I glean a bit of consolation reading an article about it, but it’s like a beer after a funeral. Why, Google!

  • Kevin

    To be fair, it DID come back in stock very sporadically. As you can see, I somehow managed to get my hands on a 16GB Nexus 4 at 9:42PM EST: http://i.imgur.com/5qbja.png

    • Sasparilla2

      Be interesting to know if that was because of real new stock alottments or cancellations that freed up some stock for sale.

  • JB

    What irks me is that I can’t buy one, but people like you bought two of them. What the hell do you need two for?

    • David Ha

      I know, I’m sorry. I bought an extra one for my girlfriend. I want her to have nice things too! I always give her the nice things and I’ll take whatever is left over, but I wanted the phone as well, so I had to buy two.

      • David S.

        Nice things? So why did you buy her an Android phone? Sure a Nexus 4 is about the closest thing to “nice” that runs Android, but that doesn’t make it nice in any realistic sense. It’d be closer to nice if it had LTE for starters. And lost the tacky plastic glitter back.

        Face it, if she was a keeper you’d have bought her a better phone. ;-)

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  • http://voteForPedro.uk.co Pedro

    This is a very in depth complaint. Stop whining.

  • tofu_panda

    speaketh the truth mouths of geeks… and enraged geeks too!

    One thing I take away from this post – Long Live Apple (for creating iPad mini to order Nexus 4)!

  • neo2049

    Great post. Looks like Google are not very good at selling stuff on the Internet. Can’t they just emloy people that have experience of this.

    Or maybe they don’t want a big launch because it will distract people from other Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III??

    It is very pathetic that the top tech sites didn’t give this the attention it deserves. Maybe Joshua Topolsky will come out shouting like last time.

  • Sasparilla2

    Great post, waiting for them to be available again… BTW the video isn’t available (saying the user who put it up closed their account) – anyone want to divulge what was in the video?

    • http://twitter.com/hippowise hippo

      Youtube video has been fixed.

  • Steve

    I couldn’t order it, because I’m on Verizon, which basically fucked it up for all time for CDMA and LTE users. I ordered my iPhone 5 on launch day, from Verizon at 1AM on my slow, crappy wireless internet connection.

  • Dayne

    Wow, you spent how much time wining about this online. Will it really change you life it takes an extra week to get?

  • http://twitter.com/avinash240 Marlon

    For everyone asking about how they can handle 2 billion searches a day but can’t handle the traffic at their store. Financial transactions require “transactions” and ACID, so all that “eventual consistency” distributed software and experience goes out the door. They’re probably using a Mysql backend for their store, I know Mysql is sanctioned software in their organization. Having delays and things slightly out of sync for a second or two works for all their other services, but for financial transactions which they have very little experience with it’s not acceptable.