Is demand really why Google stopped selling 16GB Nexus 7?

Over the weekend, Google pulled one of two Nexus 7 models from the Play store, presumably because of demand. The tablet is sold out pretty much everywhere, and had long wait times (3 to 5 weeks) for delivery, so that's not unreasonable supposition. However, a groundswell of user complaints also burst forth over the weekend, and largely directed at the 16GB tablet -- the one Google suddenly stopped selling.

I honed in on the 16GB model after receiving email complaints, seeing others online but having absolutely no problems with the two Nexus 7s in my household. Both are 8GB models, which Google still sells and isn't the brunt-taker of end-user complaints. I got to wondering: Is it coincidence that Google stopped selling the model for which there are end-user complaints?

The answer in some ways doesn't matter. The Nexus 7 launch is otherwise exceptional and shows how to effectively compete against iPad. But customer complaints, and quite possibly product defects, could mar the brand. Customer service frustration complicates the problems for people who bought direct from Google, as I did. In business perception is everything.

Before continuing, I want to clearly state: There are no problems with the Nexus 7s in my household. My wife and I are both hugely satisfied customers. But I can't say if we would feel differently with the 16GB tablet.

Screen Troubles

Last week, Brian Fagioli enthusiastically wrote for BetaNews about Nexus 7. He was one mighty excited buyer. But last night, he contacted me in near distress about ongoing problems. Early this afternoon he emails:

This nexus 7 has been a disaster. I like the device if it didn’t have the defects. Google blew it big time. I am not alone. Tons of people have dead pixels and the unresponsive right side of the screen is a well documented flaw. Not happy. I only have 15 days to request an RMA. I am trying to call to make an RMA and I cant get through! The customer experience has been horrible. Another flaw in pre-ordering with Google -- no store to return to! Had I bought it at Staples or Gamestop, I could walk in and return it. I am on hold 10 minutes as I type this!

Most complaints I've seen online focus on the screen: Dead pixels, lost sensitivity, flickering and even detachment.

Our own Tim Conneally has the 16GB Nexus 7. "I have noticed screen randomly flickering", he says. However, Tim emphasizes he only got the tablet two days ago and the flickering might not be what it appears to be:

Jelly Bean comes with screen auto-dim turned on, so I can't tell if it was flickering because of a low battery and it was constantly switching between dimmest and mid-range dim. Since yesterday, I've had auto-dim turned off, and I haven't seen any flickering yet. I personally suspected it was a power issue and maybe not a screen issue, but if people are complaining of unresponsiveness and dead pixels, it could very well be screen.

Tim makes the right observation. Too often user complaints stem from user error. For example, my wife complained that the image wouldn't rotate on her screen, like Kindle Fire. Sure enough, neither does mine. I checked settings, but there was no option to turn on screen rotation. I wondered: "How could Google leave this out?" Turns out the control is somewhere else, from the pull-down notifications menu. It's actually smart, accessible placement for the lock/unlock screen-rotation setting.

"Coming Soon"

Fagioli's complaints are more about overall usage experience and spotty performance. I recalled that he rooted his tablet and wondered about that. When looking at product problems, the first place is commonality. What do they all share in common. Android users like to tinker, and Google makes it easy on stock OS devices.

"Rooting shouldn’t cause those problem, especially a dead pixel", he answers. Then it struck me that I had only seen complaints about the 16GB model, and my two eights are fine. His observations mirror mine: "From what I read online, the 16GB had the most issues, not the 8GB". That leads to question: Why did Google pull the 16GB model? Because that's something else many of the complaints share in common -- the higher-end model.

Sell-out stories burst forth over the weekend -- and they're on blogs and news sites everywhere today -- after Google pulled the 16GB model. I wrote "Nexus 7 sells out" last week. I don't doubt that demand exceeds Google expectations. But more typically, companies continue to take orders -- Apple does it -- while upping manufacturing. What's so unusual: Google stopping sales. The status changed from 3 to 5 weeks to "coming soon".

I asked retail expert Stephen Baker, who is vice president of industry analysis for NPD, if stopping sales because of demand is unusual. He answers:

I think it is unusual but not weird to not give potential buyers a ship date on a product that is out of stock. Maybe they don't know when the next shipment is coming and they don't want to fool people into expecting something sooner. Maybe the inventory is already spoken for and they don't want to take people's money without a firm ship date. It is kind of customer friendly, I think, to not take orders for stuff that you don't know when it is going to be available.

Sources close to Google tell me that's exactly the situation. But it doesn't answer the direct question.

Google's Response

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the issue but noted there is a high-volume of demand for the 16GB model.

Google Play customer support representatives are telling people calling in: "We've had incredible demand for Nexus 7 devices and the 16GB version is temporarily unavailable in Google Play while we get more in stock".

Is that believable considering the complaints largely are about the 16GB model? Consider this: both tablets use the same screens. Shouldn't screen problems on one be the same as the other?

That brings me to something else that 16GB models could share in common: The buyers. Presumably, Android enthusiasts would be the most likely to order the higher-end model and do so early on. If you know anything about the Android community, they're a vocal lot. My sources say that only a small number of devices have screen problems, which Google confirmed.

Is this all just about a vocal minority with majority-size voice? In looking over forum posts and other online communities, that's as plausible explanation as any other -- perhaps more so. These users have high expectations that aren't necessarily met, and they're just as vocal -- perhaps more so -- about razing as praising Nexus 7.

I am puzzled by something, that could be coincidence, but I'm left wondering. Within the hour after I contacted Google for comment, the 16GB model status changed to "Ships Soon", with delivery time of 1 to 2 weeks. But when I hit refresh, "Coming Soon" returned. Perhaps the 16GB model will be back soon.

Did you buy 16GB Nexus 7? Are you satisfied?

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