The Google phone is real, and it is coming in January 2010 to challenge Apple's vaunted iPhone, according to a deluge of press reports in the wake of Google's acknowledgment that a special device with new mobile features and functionality is being tested by its employees.
The Android operating system-based device, which people are calling Nexus One, resembles the unlocked HTC Touch, lacking a physical keyboard. It is also apparently larger and thinner than those devices, perhaps coming close to the screen size of the Motorola Droid phone.
The device runs Android 2.1 (the Droid runs Android 2.0) on a Snapdragon chip and has two microphones. There is also reportedly voice to text features for the phone. The Unlockr has pictures of the device here.
Google ignited an avalanche of coverage when it gave devices to employees Friday for dogfooding, part of the company's test process for soliciting feedback and suggestions. TechCrunch uncovered several tweets from Google employees who raved about the device, even when they were not supposed to discuss it.
"A friend from Google showed me the new Android 2.1 phone from HTC coming out in Jan," wrote the GreatWhiteSnark in a poetic tweet. "A sexy beast. Like an iPhone on beautifying steroids."
Google felt compelled to respond to questions about this so-called Google phone, a device the company is creating with a hardware partner but is selling itself as a GSM phone independent of carrier help, Dec. 12.
Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google, wrote in a company blog post:
""We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it. Unfortunately, because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details. We hope to share more after our dogfood diet.""
This wouldn't be the first time Google has offered such devices. Google began selling SIM-unlocked gadgets for $399 a year ago this month to let programmers test and debug Android applications.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, confirmed previous reports and added some details (paywall warning), confirming that it is an HTC-built smartphone upon which Google crafted and customized the software and will sell online.
This is a leap for Google, which has never sold hardware and has been content to upgrade the Android OS and let carriers T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Sprint sell Android phones. That Google is allegedly eschewing the carrier crutch marks a bold step for the company.
Experts believe Google is doing this because Android is fragmenting-too many operating systems and custom firmware builds-and Google wants to make a device with which it is completely satisfied. Om Malik wrote:
""Google's decision to release a device shows that the company is worried about the fear of fragmentation of the Android ecosystem that we have often talked about. By putting its stake in the ground, the company is hoping that it doesn't make the mistake that Microsoft made by dragging its feet in releasing Zune and ceding the market to Apple's iPod. The iPhone, despite the issues with AT&T's pokey 3G network, as very eloquently pointed out by Verizon in its ads, continues to sell like a monster. Google doesn't have much time and needs to respond fast.""
Others say Google wants to "own" the device because carriers hew to the competition and can get downright Draconian about what features run on devices they sell.
For example, the Google phone is expected to feature the company's Google Voice phone management application. Verizon has said it would support Google Voice, though Apple rejected it from running on its iPhone, which is sold exclusively by AT&T.
Experts expect the iPhone to appear on other carrier networks in 2010; a Google phone such as the Nexus One could facilitate that move.