Google is likely to release a mobile operating system and a suite of mobile applications that enable online services, not fashion its own mobile phone, according to industry experts.
Amid speculation from several news outlets and blogs, the key question remains: what cards will Google show for its mobile play?
“Thats the $64,000 question,” said Osterman Research Founder Michael Osterman, adding that he believes the Mountain View, Calif., company will launch a softphone of some sort that could come as part of Googles Apps suite, giving Google a more complete unified communications solution.
Pointing to Googles deep infrastructure of search and archiving technologies, Osterman said he envisions a softphone—a program that enables VOIP (voice over IP) telephone calls from computers and handheld gadgets—to provide speech-to-text functions and the ability to search across the archive, along with the integration of Google Apps on a device.
Click here to read more about Google phone rumors.
IDC analyst Karsten Weide said he has heard that Google has beefed up its marketing presence in New York to prepare for some kind of mobile launch. However, Weide doesnt believe Google will wield its own device because its too far afield for a vendor whose bread and butter includes search engines and applications.
“Its not impossible but it would be hard for them,” Weide said. “The margins in that business are very thin, the competition is very tough. I have my doubts that its ever going to happen as a mass-market product.”
Weide believes Google may be developing phones internally and showing them around as a launching pad for a suite of mobile online services.
To that point, Google has recently acquired two small social networking startups, Zingku and Jaiku, both of which are focused on the mobile space.
Like Twitter, Jaiku, which Google acquired Oct. 9, is a microblog, allowing users to send short messages to others in the Jaiku network. In a brief interview about the deal, a Jaiku spokesperson offered his rationale for the buy.
“Google is really going to move their mobile strategy forward, so if theyre going to introduce a phone, they just bought into the leading technology in that kind of niche with Jaiku,” the spokesperson said.
“They wont make the phone; theyll likely subsidize it and may spec it,” Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle said, echoing the thoughts of many industry experts who believe Google would be unwise to throw its hat into the cutthroat mobile phone market, where rivals such as Nokia, Samsung and Apple are duking it out.
And the Google Phone
Just as skeptics have shot down the arrival of a Google mobile device, some doubt Google will attempt an open source operating system for mobile phones to rival Symbian and Windows Mobile.
Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, noting that phone code is some of the most difficult code to produce, argued that Google might be better off buying a mobile OS.
“Why not buy Palm, which they could buy for a pittance and use their Linux platform, which will take Google years to equal in terms of depth,” Dulaney told eWEEK.
To be successful, Dulaney said Google must embed itself in many, many phone manufacturers devices and persuade prospective users about trading a lock-in with an operator for a lock-in with Google.
Given the challenges, Enderle also refused to commit to the notion of a Google mobile OS but said the company would certainly provide mobile applications and, “with spectrum they could do some really interesting things towards their free cell phone vision.”
Ah, the spectrum issue.
Against the backdrop of all of the hullabaloo and speculation lies one salient fact: Google has said it is interested in bidding on 700 MHz wireless spectrum in January. Such a move begs the question: why own spectrum unless the company is going to use it to support a mobile platform of some sort?
Read more here about Googles bid for 700 MHz wireless spectrum.
Weide would not deny the connection between spectrum and Googles mobile plans, but added that Googles $4.6 billion bid is more doubtful than Google releasing its own mobile phone.
Weide argued that it is unlikely Google will bid to become another mobile carrier, joining Sprint, Vodafone, AT&T Wireless, Verizon and T-Mobile.
“We believe Google doesnt have enough money to do it,” Weide said, noting that Google would have to physically set up a network. He added that one rumor floating around has Google partnering with Apple on a mobile network.
Enderle quashed that notion, noting that Apple has a horrid partnering history and Google and Apple are at opposite ends when it comes to how to generate revenue. Philosophical disagreements could be catastrophic for such a partnership.
He added that Google has a lot of dark fiber and that, tied in with a mobile network, could suddenly pop up and scare a number of carriers right off the bat.
“Whatever they do will sell,” Dulaney said. “Operators, who are not real smart anyway, will put it on the deck just because they think Google is frightening. Only the consumer will tell us what they think.”
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