The LG Nexus 4 has sold out in the UK in under an hour. Photo: AFP
Since its official launch in November the LG Nexus smartphone has been delighting and frustrating consumers in equal measure due to supply chain problems, perceived poor customer service and what amounts to a tit-for-tat attitude between Google and LG, the handset's manufacturer as to who is to blame for the lack of available handsets.
Any smartphone that carries the ‘Nexus' branding is special. It is a reference model for the Android operating system and is designed to reflect the pinnacle of what is possible in terms of both software and hardware. Owners are guaranteed the latest features of the operating system plus a handset with the requisite power to put those possibilities to optimum use.
As such, when Google and LG teamed up to launch the LG Nexus 4 in November, demand for the handset was huge. And that's where the problems started. After less than two hours of going on sale, visitors to the Google Play site were greeted with the message that the handset was currently out of stock, but would be available again soon. However, two months later, visitors are still being greeted with the same message and when pressed to explain the supply problems, Google has been quick to blame LG and LG has been equally quick to blame Google.
The issue led Google UK's managing director, Dan Colbey, following posts from disappointed consumers, to comment on one of his own Google+ posts in December that "I know what you are going through is unacceptable and we are all working through the nights and weekends to resolve the issue. Supplies from the manufacturer are scarce and erratic, and our communication has been flawed. I can offer an unreserved apology for our service and communication failures in this process."
However, the supply chain problems have not improved and the handset is still regularly shown as out of stock on the UK, German and US Google Play sites. Until now, LG has insisted that there are no supply chain problems but has said nothing further until this week, when Cathy Robin, director of LG Mobile France gave an interview to French publication Challenges, in which she said that Google had seriously miscalculated how many handsets it would be able to sell and that LG has simply produced the phone in the numbers ordered by the search giant and that those numbers were less than 400,000 units. "Supply problems are not necessarily completely related to LG. Google presented forecasts based on the sales history of previous Nexus devices. But they were less in demand. Current deliveries correspond to what has been pre-ordered on Google Play. We continue to deliver regularly. But it is ‘lean'. This is why the Nexus 4 is always shown as exhausted and potential buyers feel they cannot buy it," she said.
As well as offering the latest Android features, the Nexus 4's other big selling point is that it is a handset that can compete with a Samsung Galaxy SIII yet is much cheaper. Therefore, Google has a responsibility to other Android phone makers not to flood the market with Nexus devices for fear of cannibalizing sales from its partners. However, by underestimating interest in the phone on such an epic scale, the incident has highlighted two other potential failings -- Google's lacking approach to customer services, and its lack of understanding of a market it created when it launched the Android operating system back in 2007.