This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
There were no fewer than 6 times when we had a Nexus 4 in our Google Play shopping cart, but we were not able to purchase the device any of those times because of various errors, and we weren't alone.The rumor had been that the Nexus 4 would go on sale at noon EST (9AM PST), but Google jumped the gun, and the actual launch happened somewhere around 11:36AM EST (8:36AM PST). Unfortunately, the launch was anything but smooth.
First of all, not everyone saw the purchase button upon visiting the Google Play Store. Sometimes, it took a couple refreshes before the "ComingSoon" notification became the "Add to Cart" button. Once the "Add to Cart" button did arrive, the problems got worse. Like us, there were times when users would get all the way through the checkout process before seeing the Google Fail Robot, being told that the order had been cancelled, and asking to "please try again". Other times, the page would simply become unresponsive when clicking the "Proceed" button to begin the checkout, and after refreshing the page to try again, the Nexus 4 had disappeared from the cart without warning or explanation, forcing users to start the process all over again.
Then, suddenly, refreshing the page would no longer give you an actual product page or shopping cart, but just a plain Google Server error page. This page showed for about 5-10 minutes, and once it reverted back to the Nexus 4 product page, the time was already gone. After just 25 minutes, both the 8GB and 16GB models of the Nexus 4 were sold out.
As we have been writing this article, we have also been on hold with the Google Play telephone support line, and, we had no idea how long we would be on hold, because the highest estimate the support line gives is "longer than 15 minutes". After 24 minutes on hold, we did reach a human, and were told that the problems extended beyond the Play Store site, which was crashing, but that even internal Google servers were crashing, and the rep we talked to couldn't access certain help systems because of crashes, and they could not place orders for us because of the server problems. We asked what would be the procedure moving forward and were told that the best bet would be to call back in the next 48 hours.
We fully understand that demand for the Nexus 4 has been staggering, and going into today, we fully expected to come up against server errors and things like that. Server errors are to be expected when any site, even a Google site, is bombarded with the kind of traffic and constant refreshing that was happening once the Nexus 4 went live. Granted, we tend to have a higher expectation from Google, given the company's reputation for uptime, and not having these sorts of issues arise even with huge traffic. We're not angry that the Nexus 4 had a limited supply, or even that the supply ran out so quickly. The issue is that once an item is in your shopping cart, that should be the end of the battle.
Imagine that this had happened in a brick and mortar store: you wait in line for a new product, you get inside, you get the product, you go to the checkout, then the cash register breaks, so the manager takes the item that you were going to purchase and puts it back on the shelf, and tells you to try again. So, you fight through the crowd again to get the product, then as you're walking to the checkout, the manager takes the item and puts it back on the shelf, but this time when you go back, the shelf is empty. That's what happened to many people in the Play Store today.
Checking through Twitter and Google+, we were not alone in the troubles we faced. Many others found themselves with a Nexus 4 in their shopping carts, but were not able to successfully complete the purchase. There is no blame to go anywhere but Google. The Play Store should have been able to handle the traffic today, and even if there were a few issues, no one should have been able to get as close to purchasing the device as we did without coming away successful.
Google certainly needs to beef up the Google Play Store to make sure this never happens again, but beyond that we will be watching Google closely because how the company reacts to this is very important. This isn't just a matter of a device selling out quickly and customers being disappointed. This is a matter of customers being led to believe that they were going to be successful, then having the rug pulled out from under them. We will continue trying to contact Google and let you know as new info comes through.