Rumors of a Google Mobile Phone Swirl

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2007-08-30

Rumors of a Google Mobile Phone Swirl

If Google plans to unleash a mobile phone, industry analysts agree it wont be a solo effort, but a collaboration with multiple hardware and software vendors.

Rumors have abounded since a blogger for CrunchGear reported August 27 that Google is working on mobile-tailored versions of Google Maps (with built-in GPS), Gmail, Google Talk and Calendar, and possibly a mobile operating system.

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK that the company wont comment on rumor or speculation, but industry analysts seem to agree that the search engine and software maker is not building its own phone in an attempt to compete with market leaders such as Nokia and Research in Motion.

Read more here about the reports that a Google phone is in the works.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst who covers the mobile market for Gartner, said the so-called Google Phone will most likely be manufactured by a company that will bake special Google functions into the gadget, noting that Google is unlikely to release a phone aimed at competing with phones from market leader Nokia.

Nokia phones employ the Symbian OS, which boasts a robust 71 percent placement on the worlds smart phones.

"There is a very important distinction," Dulaney said. "To build a phone you need lots of experience. Phone code is some of the most complicated per line of code there is. Google will likely experience performance problems if they do the whole thing themselves."

Evidence seems to favor Dulaneys theory that Google is teaming up with hardware makers. Gadget blog site Gizmodo on August 28 offered this picture of a Google phone, allegedly developed by HTC.

ABI Research analyst Stuart Carlaw said HTC would be ideal for Google to partner with, but added that Ubiquisys could be another partner in this race.

Ubiquisys, based in Swindon, U.K., is the maker of ZoneGate, a small device that enables users to enjoy 3G wireless services in the home without disruption. Google, incidentally, participated in a $25 million investment round for Ubiquisys in July.

Next page: Google Mobile Software in the Works?

Google Mobile Software in

the Works?">

As for the software Google plans to unleash, the prevailing belief is that the search portal and hosted software maker will roll out a Linux software platform optimized to work with, well, almost anything.

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle said Google has never been that interested in doing a complete platform but on building off of the platforms of others. Accordingly, Enderle thinks Googles solution could run on any combinations of Symbian, Apples OSX (when it is opened up), Windows Mobile or Linux.

"They have been very focused on simply driving ad revenue and so far seem to be staying out of much of the platform fight," Enderle said, noting that Google leans toward open source largely because it fits their do-it yourself model.

"So they actually may not be competing with anyone as there isnt anyone else with an ad-based model for them to compete with. In effect they will be a bulk buyer of phones and services using ad revenue, and the only one if they get this to work," Enderle added.

In that respect, Google could go the MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) route with its phones. MVNOs provide mobile phone service their own radio frequency spectrum and generally dont provide the hardware or infrastructure required to provide such service.

Disney Mobile, for one, is an MVNO that operates on Sprints CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network. But most MVNOs have failed to gain any traction, so Google could have an uphill battle to climb in that respect. Moreover, ABI Research analyst Stuart Carlaw said Google will need more than one device if it enters the market as an MVNO.

"In terms of the service model theyre [supposedly] looking at, navigation, Google Maps and GPS coming pre-loaded on the product seems very interesting," said Carlaw.

The notion that Google would offer a mobile platform is no shock. The company has long held up mobile devices, particularly smart phones, as the next big wave of product and service potential for search. By delving deeper into the mobile world, Google would be able to place ads that users could see away from homebound PCs.

Moreover, creating its own mobile platform would give Google a great way to optimize its Google Apps offerings, which some experts believe are destined to challenge Microsofts productivity and collaboration throne.

Moreover, the company seems bent on pushing the wireless envelope by pledging to pump $4.6 billion into the $20-odd billion worth of 700 MHz wireless spectrum the FCC will free up in January.

Read more here about Googles plunge into the mobile sector.

So, what would it take for Google to lure hardware vendors and then customers to its platform?

"Money, and to not annoy the hell out of the customers," Enderle said. "I do think they are likely to try this and the HTC phone looks great."

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