Almost one month after Google began directly selling the HTC Nexus One smartphone to consumers -- and started getting heat for everything from shoddy customer service to a long list of bugs -- it has begun to make some healthy adjustments.
On Jan. 13, in the face of mounting criticism, Google told the media that the company was taking a flexible approach and was ready to "make changes to our processes and tools, as necessary, for an optimal customer support experience."
Looks like those changes are coming sooner than later. As of Feb. 8, customers who have placed an order for a Nexus One and want to check on its status can talk to an honest-to-goodness person rather than shooting an e-mail off into Google support limbo.
On Google's Nexus One help page, customers with questions about their existing orders are now prompted to "contact Nexus One support from Google at 888-48-NEXUS (63987). Open daily from 7:00 a.m. EST to 10:00 p.m. EST." Customers looking for a live person with answers to their technical questions or concerns about repairs and returns are directed to contact HTC; those with questions about their T-Mobile service (currently the only option for the Nexus One) are asked to call ... T-Mobile.
And in response to criticism -- and an inquiry from federal regulators -- for charging customers a massive $350 equipment recovery fee if they cancel their service within 120 days, Google has slashed the charge to $150.
Of course, Google also issued a less than apologetic statement: "Google's overall financial philosophy with regard to operator service plans remains unchanged: We make no profit from commissions from operators or from equipment recovery fees, and our recovery fees are based on operator charges to Google for early termination of service."
And Nexus One users are still hit with a $200 early termination fee from T-Mobile, unless they're upgrading an existing line of service from the wireless carrier, in which case the fee has been lowered to $50.
Both of these are good moves on Google's part, no matter how much they appear to be playing them down.
And Google got some other good news for its embattled Nexus One initiative on Saturday, when Linux pioneer Linus Torvalds, a name that carries a good amount of weight in the IT world, gave the phone a thumbs-up on his blog.
Torvalds, an acknowledged cellphone hater, said that he bought an Android G1 when it came out, but only used it to play Galaga and Solitaire on planes. "But I have to admit," he wrote, "the Nexus One is a winner. I wasn't enthusiastic about buying a phone on the Internet sight unseen, but the day it was reported that it finally had the pinch-to-zoom thing enabled, I decided to take the plunge. I've wanted to have a GPS unit for my car anyway, and I thought that Google navigation might finally make a phone useful."
"And it does," he continued. "What a difference! I no longer feel like I'm dragging a phone with me ‘just in case' I would need to get in touch with somebody -- now I'm having a useful (and admittedly pretty good-looking) gadget instead. The fact that you can use it as a phone too is kind of secondary."
That's a nice IT celebrity recommendation for Google. And that "pinch-to-zoom thing" hasn't hurt either. On Feb. 2, Google released a software update that included that eagerly awaited functionality, along with a fix for its much-publicized 3G connectivity problems and a new version of Google Maps.It's way too early to call the phone a hit or miss, but it has a long way to go before anyone's going to call it a success story. Google sold 80,000 phones in its first month of availability, according to research firm Flurry. By comparison, another Android phone, the Motorola Droid, sold 525,000 over the same period.