A wonderful piece of crowdsleuthing by the fervent Android fans of the XDA forums has revealed how many Nexus 4s have been built. The astonishingly cheap phone was one of the most popular phones of 2012 -- coming second in CNET UK readers' Phone of the Year awards -- but production shortages left many would-be buyers frustrated. So how many Nexuses are out there?
In a post spotted by TechCrunch, XDA user Alexander T deduced that the first four figures of the serial number on the box reveal when and where your Nexus was made. Get your box out and have a look -- the first figure is the year of production, so 2 for 2012, 3 for 2013. The second and third figures are the month, so 11 for November, 12 for December, 01 for January. The fourth letter determines where the phone was built: K for Korea, C for China.
After several people confirmed the system worked by posting their first four digits and when they received their phone, user draugaz suggested, "Now it would be interesting to decode the rest of the numbers so we could roughly estimate the actual production counts."
The last six figures of the code, which correspond to the last six digits of the IMEI number inside the phone, appear to be a simple counter of the number of units produced. By looking at serial numbers in Nexus 4 YouTube unboxing videos, the intrepid draugaz began to work out rough production counts for October, November and December. Soon other users were joining in and a good spread of data appeared.
Struggling to keep up
Just 70,000 units were made in October, and 90,000 in November, before production ramped up to over 200,000 built in December. These numbers appear to include the 8GB units, not just the slightly more expensive just 16GB models overwhelmingly favoured by XDA's members. The two have the same IMEI signifier, 353918-05. Given most of these phones will have been sold directly to punters, that gives a total figure of nearly 400,000 Nexus 4s sold in just two months.
The thread also shone a light on the extraordinarily short production and shipping times for the phone. Another user, alanwyl, found a nifty LG web service that tells you exactly which day your Nexus was built -- aww, its birthday! -- if you put your IMEI number at the end of this URL. "According to that site," posted zivan56, "mine was manufactured 3 days after ordering (Dec 3 order Dec 6 manufactured). It was shipped on Dec 13, which means it took about a week to get from Korea to Kentucky, USA."
"Wow these phones are being made a week before we get them! Google really has no stock of the phone," added Chad_Petree.
CNET UK's product manager Al Mottram ordered the Nexus you see in the box above on 4 December, the day it went back on sale in the UK. Using the LG web service, I found that his 8GB model was built on 17 December, so it took nearly two weeks for LG to catch up with demand and make Al's phone for him.
As XDA user netudiant writes, it's "Just stunning data. It indicates the combined LG/Google market research did not see a problem offering under 100,000 devices (per month) for a market running near 10 million per month, even though their device cost 40 per cent less. Should become a classic business school case study."
"No LTE means it is not exactly 'cutting edge," thread champion draugaz responded. "Especially in the USA where $350 for most people also means it is 'almost twice as expensive as iPhone 5' which does have LTE."
Certainly the Nexus 4 seems to have been much more popular in parts of the world where LTE, aka 4G, isn't so widespread, and where Google sells hardware through the Play Store. LG faced outrage in countries where it offered the Nexus 4 at a normal markup, as opposed to Google's near-cost price.
When was your Nexus 4 built and how long did it take to reach you? (I should warn you not to post your phone's full IMEI number online.) Celebrate its birthday down in the comments, or over on our Facebook page.