If it is possible to will something into existence, a fully integrated, entirely Google-branded phone geared to challenge Apple’s phenomenally successful iPhone will hit the market in 2010.
Despite numerous protests that a phone created and sold by Google with the help of a third-party manufacturer would upset wireless carriers, Times Online reported Nov. 22 that Google in 2010 will launch an advanced smartphone with a larger-than-usual touch screen and a speedy Qualcomm processor that trumps the one powering the iPhone 3GS.
Moreover, the gadget will likely run the as-yet-unseen “Flan” version of Google’s Android operating system and support Google Voice, the phone management service Google offers free that lets users ring their home, work and mobile numbers through a special Google number.
Google Voice features text messaging and several voice mailbox features and, integrated with its newly acquired Gizmo5 assets, could give Google Voice the endpoint connector it needs to patch calls through to Skype and other VOIP (voice over IP) services.
The triumvirate of Google Phone, Google Voice and Gizmo5 could give Google the total package to facilitate calls, potentially cutting Google’s wireless partners, such as Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, out of voice calling and text messaging data sales.
And if Google chose to sell the phone directly to customers and unlocked devices by letting users put the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards from their current handhelds into their Google phones, it could rob carriers of their power. Carriers neither want to be dumb pipes nor powerless.
The Times report cited financial analyst Ashok Kumar from Northeast Securities as a source. A Google spokesperson contacted by eWEEK declined to comment on “market rumor or speculation.”
Analysts and phone experts eWEEK spoke to were divided on the matter. VOIP consultant Andy Abramson said if Google were to release its own phone with Google Voice it would democratize mobile calling.
“It’s going to free you from the handset deal,” Abramson said. “It’s going to allow you to pick the carrier you like the best.” He also outlined a scenario in which carriers might find a Google phone attractive.
Pros and Cons of a Google Phone
Noting that carriers are tired of subsidizing handset costs, Abramson said carriers such as Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and others could offer consumers a flexible plan that doesn’t lock users into two-year contracts. He pointed to T-Mobile’s solo plan, a 30-day rolling plan in which T-Mobile provides voice and data services for consumers who bring their own phones and SIM cards, as a model for a possible play by Google.
With such a plan, a consumer could order a Google phone and have it work anywhere in the United States and overseas, accessing Google Voice, Google Gmail and Microsoft Exchange server, Google Maps Navigation, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other applications.
Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin, however, said he doesn’t believe the alleged Google phone would be as disruptive as it’s being made out to be.
Golvin said he believes Google may have gone to a handset manufacturer directly and had it make a device that has Google’s brand on it, similar to what Apple does.
Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle ripped the idea of such a Google Phone as an affront to carriers Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, as well as handset makers such as Motorola and HTC:
““The old rule is that you never go into competition with your partners. You either license or you vertically integrate. If you try to do both the conflicts kill the effort; either the clones undercut your margins, or they simply don’t trust you enough to give you the support needed to be successful. In short, Google doing their own phone would be a Christmas present to their competitors that would likely keep on giving.”“
But Golvin said he thinks Android licensees would be okay with this, believing that they could do a better job than Google because they have access to the same platform and Google’s services.
“It’s not like Google, if it were to launch this device, would go back to HTC and Samsung and Motorola and say, ‘You can’t have Google Maps,'” he said.
Even so, Golvin said he doesn’t believe Google would benefit from building its own phone in the long run. He thinks Android and Google Apps are merely the vehicles to drive more advertising to Google and it doesn’t matter what devices they run on or what company offers them, as long as mobile ads are being served.
“Fundamentally, that’s what Google wants-it doesn’t matter what brand of phone you have or what carrier network you’re on. They want to be right there at the top of the phone for customers to bring their attention to Google and its advertisers.”