Less than two years ago, we couldn't have imagined this scene:
That's Google CEO Eric Schmidt on the left and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam on the right. They held a joint conference call in New York City today to announce a huge deal that will put Google's Android mobile operating system on phones, PDAs, netbooks and other devices marketed and sold by Verizon Wireless.
In March 2008, Verizon Wireless won the right to purchase 700MHz wireless spectrum after tussling with the Federal Communications Commission over the agency's open access requirements, which were instigated by Google's bidding. These companies appeared to hate each other, but it was just businesslike gamesmanship.
Today, the companies said they are pairing Android with the nation's No. 1 wireless network, at 87 million-plus customers. This deal makes the T-Mobile G1 launch from September 2008 look like a nonevent. T-Mobile is the nation's smallest wireless network, but Google had to start somewhere. Sprint already pledged its Android support, leaving AT&T the lone U.S. holdout.
Google and Verizon Wireless said they will unveil two phones in the coming weeks, with announcements about PDAs and netbooks forthcoming in later months into 2010. Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam didn't put a timetable on it, noting:
"This is a family of devices, it's not just a smartphone or a PDA. There will be lots of opportunity to expand the lineup over the next several years together. While Eric and I certainly have in our minds that we'll have multiple devices per year, we don't really have a hard target at this point."
During the conference call, Google featured this data slide of what the deal does for it:
Schmidt aptly noted:
"This partnership is a big deal for us. It's a major, major milestone in the Android platform. It's come a long way from one device and one carrier in one country to over nine devices in 26 countries with 32 carriers in 19 languages."
Schmidt was also complimentary (borderline gushing) about Verizon Wireless' willingness to be open and its network prowess:
"At Verizon somehow the leadership has decided to embrace a different philosophy, which works very, very well with the Internet. And we also learned that this is a network engineering company that makes it work, that they sweat the details and that they understand scale in a way that is very consistent with the way Google would like to work."
Google and Verizon Wireless can say what they will about the timing, but their PR teams clearly didn't want Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5 launch to command all of the attention in the wireless world.
They succeeded, topping the Windows Mobile launch in popularity on TechMeme here.
What's also interesting about this play is that Verizon this past January picked Microsoft over Google and Yahoo to provide Web search and mobile display advertising services to customers on its devices for the next five years.
This makes me wonder about the apps Android-Verizon gadgets will tout: Will Verizon start promoting Google search over Bing?
McAdam said Verizon Wireless intends to support Google Voice, and Schmidt noted Google Search By Voice and Google Maps with Latitude will be preloaded on the phones, but what will the search offering look like?
Verizon Wireless CMO John Stratton only noted:
"We have a lot of very valuable partners here. We don't see expanding business opportunities with one is necessarily taking away from the other. That suggests it's kind of a zero-sum game. I'd like not to characterize this relationship as something that is going to run counter to someone else's goals and objectives with Verizon."
Indeed, as Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling noted today, Verizon is playing the two Internet powers against each other.
As the leading wireless power, it can afford to do that. One wonders whether there will be a power shift between Google search for mobile and Bing for mobile.
Also, how will the FCC's new network neutrality guidelines for the wireless industry play into all of this?
McAdam said those processions on Capitol Hill with new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had no bearing on this deal: "Eric and I from the very beginning talked about something that will be exciting to customers."