No Google Nexus One for Sprint. So What?

Sprint (s s) today follows its CDMA cousin, Verizon Wireless (s vz), in choosing not to ink a deal with Google to carry the Nexus One. HTC builds the Nexus One for Google (s goog), which in turn sells the device online, but HTC won’t be hurting — it also builds the two handsets that are the likely reason Sprint and Verizon are passing on the Nexus One in the first place. So neither Google nor HTC are likely to be impacted negatively impacted. For that matter, neither is the Android operating system as a whole, which outsold the iPhone (s aapl) in the first quarter of 2010.

When Google announced the Nexus One in early January, it said the phone would arrive on the Verizon network in the spring — to no avail. It turns out that Verizon didn’t need it, as the carrier just released the HTC Incredible. Aside from a few minor hardware differences, the Incredible is nearly the same phone as the Nexus One, although it runs the HTC Sense user interface atop Android 2.1. Even that can be had on the Nexus One if you want to flash a cooked ROM, as I have on my handset. So Verizon had little to gain by supporting two very similar phones on its network — and with the news of Sprint’s EVO expected this summer, Sprint has nothing to gain from a Nexus One deal, either.

The EVO will be Sprint’s first 4G handset (it falls back to 3G mobile broadband when outside of a 4G coverage area). Like the Incredible, the EVO also doubles up on internal memory, supports 720p video recording and runs on the same 1 GHz Snapdragon (s qcom) processor powering the Nexus One, though at 4.3 inches the display is slightly larger. With such subtle differences, what reasons does Sprint have to allow the Nexus One on its network? I can’t think of one, and if anything, it wouldn’t help the company tout its 4G network since the Nexus One isn’t capable of using it.

So is the Nexus One any more of a failure that some previously thought as the result of Sprint’s decision to pass? I’d argue that it never was a failure and certainly isn’t now. The Nexus One strategy was never about a single handset (GigaOM Pro, sub req’d). Instead, the idea was for Google to shoot across the bow of controlling carriers and to show consumers and mobile operators alike that an unsubsidized, full-priced and unlocked handset business model can work in the U.S. — much as it does today outside of the country.

Google sold an estimated 135,000 Nexus One handsets in the first 74 days without any of the mainstream media marketing often employed by carriers, and without long-term contracts. It’s easy to call the Nexus One a failure if you simply look at sales figures. But if you apply those figures to a business model that few have succeeded at, the Nexus One is seen in an entirely different light. After the dust settles, the customers that waited for a CDMA version of the Nexus One will happily buy an Incredible or an EVO — both of which are slight upgrades to the Nexus One they planned on purchasing — so Google, HTC, and the public win. Come to think of it, so, too, do Verizon and Sprint.