Lessons from Google's Underwhelming Nexus One Show

By most accounts, Google's (GOOG) Nexus One smartphone isn't lighting the mobile phone world on fire. PC Magazine reports lackluster sales and says the branded device lacks the "wow factor." Although much criticism seems centered around connectivity issues and the lack of developer tools for the Android platform, Google lost an opportunity for a dramatic launch with its presentation on January 5, 2010.

Google chose to host a press event instead of a staged event with a broad audience. According to some presentation experts I've talked to, as well as some observers on Twitter, Google executives left their audience underwhelmed.

The most negative comments may have come from CNBC anchors and commentators. With a crawl that read "Nexus One Presentation a Snoozer," a CNBC anchor posed this commentary to her panel of pundits: "Remember how mesmerized you were three years ago, when Steve Jobs took the stage—cool and confident—sporting his black turtleneck? In a slick-looking PowerPoint presentation, he unveiled the iPhone. Google went into a different direction, using a black-on-white slide and an overhead projector to introduce the Nexus One. And listen to this: This was their opening salvo in the smart phone war…" CNBC then ran a video clip of a Google vice-president introducing the product: "Today, uh, we're announcing the Nexus One. Nexus, the dictionary definition of Nexus, is that it's, uh, a point of convergence, a means of connection."

Amid laughs in the background, the CNBC anchor followed with this comment: "When the opening line is from Webster's, you know you're in trouble." The on-set analysts were laughing and joking about the presentation, likening it to a "school report."

What would Steve Jobs Do?

What happened? Some slides were beautifully crafted. One showed the Nexus One next to a pencil on one side (to show how thin it is) and a Swiss-army knife on the other (to show how light it is). If the slides were not the problem, why didn't Google's presenters impress the press? The problem was threefold:

Lack of practice. It's hard to say how many times Google executives ran through the presentation, but it didn't look like much, at least to media observers and Twitterati, who were making comments about the speakers' lack of polish, citing the number of "ums" and "ahs" that filled the event. One presentation design expert told me: "Today you can't afford to alienate anyone. A sloppy presentation can make people feel like you didn't care enough to make it interesting or that you didn't value their time as much as you valued your own." Thousands of hours must have gone into the concept, design, and production of Google's phone. The speakers might have appeared more polished if they had spent several days rehearsing every aspect of the presentation.

The low-tech approach. CNBC's pundits were unimpressed because it looked as though Google had used an overhead projector instead of the rich multimedia that audiences have come to expect from presentations by tech leaders. The confusion seemed to stem from the fact that Google used a desktop magnification device to project an image of the phone instead of a video feed directly from the phone, something that Steve Jobs does when showing off a new gadget. To make matters worse, the projected images of the smartphone were black and white, which made the images look even more like old-fashioned transparencies.

No sense of awe. Steve Jobs started the iPhone presentation by building up the drama. He looked back at Apple's revolutionary products and teased the audience by saying Apple was about to do it again. This built up the suspense. He then said Apple would introduce three revolutionary products on this day: a new iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. After repeating the phrase several times, he said, "Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device and we are calling it, iPhone." Remember, a presentation is more than an opportunity to deliver information—it should inform, educate, and entertain.

In 2007, I wrote a column about Steve Jobs and the iPhone introduction; a presentation that I considered one of the greatest I've ever seen. At the time, I argued that presentations would be compared more and more to an Apple (AAPL)-like experience. Exactly three years later, I'll say it again: Your presentations are being compared to Steve Jobs, whether you like it or not. Google's CNBC experience demonstrates that presentations cannot be taken for granted.

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