Google is no Walmart, nor is it Amazon. Its first foray into retail
crashed and burned in 2010 when it tried to sell its Nexus One Android-powered smartphone directly to the public, rather than through carriers and retailers, and ended up giving the phones away to developers.
But now that Google's Android is the top-selling platform both globally and in the U.S. market, with sales fueled heavily by the power of the Samsung Electronics' juggernaut, does it make sense for the search and software king to start thinking bricks and mortar?
'Nothing to Announce'
Rumors have fueled published reports that Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has been mulling the example of Apple, which opened its first stores -- in Tysons Corner, Va., and Glendale, Calif. -- in May 2001. Despite skepticism from Apple board members, the retail business has gone on to include 395 stores worldwide, including outlets in China, Europe and Australia. Global sales for 2011 were $16 billion, according to Apple.
But Google now says it has no plan to follow suit. Speaking to reporters at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, the company's senior vice president for mobile and digital content, Andy Rubin, said "Google has no plans and we have nothing to announce," when asked about any retail ambitions. According to The Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD, Rubin said reviews from friends and the media gave consumers enough information that they no longer need to go into stores to play with new gadgets before making their purchase decisions.
"For Nexus, I don't think the program is far enough along to think about the necessity of having these things in a retail store," he added, referring to the hardware line that now includes both smartphones and tablets.
When it comes to retail, Apple and Google are on different wavelengths, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
"Brick and mortar stores make sense for Apple, as it allows the company to pitch a unique experience that bolsters the company's brand and its products' premium qualities -- and prices," King told us.
Could Be a Drain
"Google is far more focused on delivering products with solid technical capabilities at highly competitive prices," King said. "For example, an unlocked 16 gigabyte Nexus 4 handset costs about half of what a similarly featured iPhone 5 costs. Given that emphasis on low margin/value products and Google's position as one of the market's most innovative online players, it's hard to see how opening retail outlets would be anything but a drain for the company."
As it stands, other companies selling Android phones have placed the platform at 68.4 percent of the global market for 2012, according to figures from Strategy Analytics, compared with Apple's 19.4 percent.
The outlook for the tablet market is not too shabby, either. Research showed that Apple's market-leading iPad is losing share at the expense of Android-powered devices made by Samsung and others.