This is a guest post from Sam Diaz of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Sam on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Back in January, Google made a splash over the Nexus One smartphone – summoning the tech press out to the Googleplex for an introduction to not only the device itself, but also a new way of selling it.

You see, Google wanted to reinvent the way consumers shop for and buy cell phones. Pushing away from a model where specific devices are tied to certain carriers, Google had this vision of selling its devices directly to the consumer and then giving them a choice on which carrier to use.

It was a valiant effort but was flawed right out of the gate. First, there were questions galore on who would handle offline sales, support and service – Google certainly wasn’t equipped to handle that. Then came the rumblings over what was perceived to be double “early termination fees” – those imposed by the carriers and a separate that would be charged by Google.

Now, the company has quietly made one change to its Nexus One online store that suggests – for those of us trying to read deeper into it – that Google may be backing away from its push into the online smartphone sales business. (Techmeme) For months, its site has been pitching the Nexus One for Verizon as a “Coming in Spring 2010.” This morning, the language was changed to read: For Verizon’s network, you can buy the Droid Incredible by HTC, a powerful Android phone and similarly feature-packed cousin of the Nexus One.

Below that, there’s a link that sends visitors to Verizon’s website to place a pre-order.

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Here’s hoping that Google finally saw the light and decided to rethink the strategy. One of its biggest flaws was that Google, as a retailer, was becoming a competitor to the carriers that it was also partnering with. The other big problem was that the unsubsidized device carried a price tag that clearly wasn’t going to resonate well with consumers – $529.

None of this is to suggest that the current system of mobile phone sales, support and service is model is the perfect system that doesn’t need changing. It’s gotten better – but consumers do want more freedoms when it comes to buying mobile devices. If those sort of freedoms were in place, I would have bought an iPhone for my Verizon plan years ago.

Instead, I’ve completely lost interest in the iPhone and instead will likely walk into a Verizon store to pick up a Droid Incredible later this week. And I’ll be relieved to actually buy it from a real person and walk out of store with one, instead of clicking on a “Buy Now” link and then waiting for a UPS driver to deliver it later.

There’s no shame in trying to rock the boat a bit and Google gave it a good shot. There really wasn’t much risk, given the overhead involved with the online store model, so Google didn’t have much to lose. Pouring some cash into a marketing or advertising budget might have helped – after all, it helped the Droid gain some traction – but that alone wasn’t going to make the online sales model work.

Google needs to stay focused on doing what it does best – enhancing a smartphone OS that will give the iPhone a run for its money, building that app developer community and cutting deals with a variety of device manufacturers and carriers.

That alone rocks the boat enough for me to want to jump on-board.