Setbacks with the launch of Google's first mobile phone, the Nexus One, have delayed its expected release in the UK till mid-April. Photograph: Robert Galbraith/Reuters
Google's attempt to break into the mobile phone market has hit serious problems in Britain with the launch of its flagship Nexus One device understood to have been delayed until the middle of next month.
The setback means that by the time Google's first own-branded foray into the market this side of the Atlantic is available to consumers, its local network partner Vodafone will have launched a competing product, which analysts say is better, called the HTC Legend.
While Google has been working with the industry on the Android mobile phone software for several years, the Nexus One, made by Taiwan's HTC, is the first handset over which the search engine group has had complete control. But launching a new phone has proved more difficult than Google expected.
It was released in the US in January, but Google's decision to sell it solely through its website immediately came in for criticism as buyers struggled to get help with technical problems, and Google, which has traditionally relied on email for consumer contact, was forced to introduce telephone helplinessupport and the problems it has experienced in the US has given it reason to pause over the phone's launch outside the US, to make sure it has its customer service operations in place. Last week Goldman Sachs slashed its estimate for Nexus One sales this year from 3.5m units to 1m worldwide.
In the UK, Google will not only sell the phone at full price to any customer who wants to put their existing sim card into it, but it has also teamed up with Vodafone, which will offer the device free to anyone willing to sign a £35 monthly contract.
But the delay in the launch of the Nexus One, which under Google's original plan would have been available earlier this month, means that it will come after the launch of rival Android devices that analysts reckon are at least as good, if not better. Vodafone, for instance, will be offering the HTC Legend in April which has the same operating system as the Nexus One but is more stylish: being built from a single piece of milled aluminium. Orange and T-Mobile, meanwhile, will both be stocking the HTC Desire – which is exactly the same as the Nexus One, but has an optical trackpad instead of a trackball – from next month.
The delay also means the Google device will be available in the UK only weeks before another hotly anticipated gadget, Apple's iPad. Several of the UK's mobile phone companies are finalising deals with Apple to sell the tablet computer to British consumers. Unlike its last mobile device, the iPhone, which was offered through just one exclusive partner for the first two years, the iPad is expected to be available through multiple network operators from the start.
Apple will ship two versions of the iPad in the UK, one that can access the internet using short-range wi-fi networks and one that can also access 3G mobile phone networks. But Apple needs to sign deals with at least one UK mobile network, because the iPad makes use of micro-sims, meaning that buyers cannot just put the sim card from their existing handsets into it. In fact, it will be the first device launched in the UK that uses micro-sims.
Apple said earlier this month that the device will go on sale in the UK towards the end of April but the mobile phone companies believe that the 3G version of the iPad will not be available until May. Orange, T-Mobile, O2 and Vodafone all expect to be selling the iPad to customers and they are all locked in talks with the Californian company. Apple, however, has made it plain that it does not want iPad users to be tied to long-term contracts with any mobile phone operator. Instead it wants users to be able to pay for mobile network access on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Vodafone refused to comment. A spokesperson for Google added: "Our plans for launching the Nexus One in the UK are on track and in line with our statement in January that we would launch in spring 2010."