Is the Google Phone Real? Analyzing the Elephant in the Room

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Yesterday, the internet was abuzz with more speculations on what the Google Phone may be as Google employees started tweeting about the hardware and its design. One tweet reads, “Like an iPhone on beautifying steroids,” while another employee started expressing excitement, “ZOMG we had fireworks and we all got the new Google phone. It’s beautiful.” There were still yet other tweets from other employees and Google, at one point, did confirm that something was undergoing testing by its employees in a process known as “dogfood”–essentially you eat your own dogfood to know if it’s good:

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.

The device is said to be called the Google Nexus One.

The Rumors

The device, which many believe, looks to be an HTC Passion, otherwise known as the HTC Dragon or HTC Bravo. It is essentially a beefed up, but un-branded HTC Hero meets the HD2.

Our Analysis

So what’s special about the rumors and what’s our take on this Google behemoth? Will it crush the market hype leader in the Apple iPhone and should Microsoft be taking notes?

A lot has been speculated about the Google phone. Some have said that it will have tighter OS and hardware integration than OEM-made Google phones. Others have said that it will come bundled with more Google services, perhaps like full Google Voice integration. But Google Android is still a very nascent OS, could Google risk alienating some of their partners and design manufacturers at this point? In the short term, Google can. If a tighter integrated model becomes compelling and successful, it could use the “Google Phone” as a testbed to launch future Android products so that its OEM partners–the HTCs, Samsungs, and Motorolas of the world–wouldn’t have to test out Sense UI or MOTO BLUR and other experiences. It could create a more harmonious platform than a disparate user experience across different Android products.

Additionally, manufacturers are already bound to Android and Google can leverage this predicament to spin their own hardware. HTC’s already committed to making 50% of its hardware releases based on Android and have little recourse but to go with Android to grow as Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform hasn’t seen kind reviews from critics. Motorola’s Droid has been a success, but what can Motorola do without Android? The company is still trying to emerge and prove itself as a veteran that’s still relevant in today’s fickle market, and thus far Android is its weapon in doing so. In short, OEMs and hardware partners have little negotiation room and will have to quietly bite the bullet on this one if they want any association with Google, which is a popular brand.

The long answer is that Google should back off from its hardware designs in fear of its OEM. While it can get away with being the bully on the playground, Google’s entry into the hardware space would be anything but follow the company’s motto of do no evil. Once Microsoft releases Windows Mobile 7, a lot can change. Remember that Google’s OEM partners were and are Windows Mobile licensees, and with what is rumored to be a radical new mobile OS release from Redmond, Washington in the coming years, Google cannot afford, if it wants to grow Android marketshare, of alienating some of these early OEMs–who have invested a lot of time, research, and risk into Andrid–as they can easily go back to Microsoft. And if they do, their loss with Android would be $0. Why? Because there were no licensing costs with Android’s open-source model to begin with. Essentially, it’s a delicate dance, and a dance that we’re not sure that Google would want to tango through at this point considering the heated competition from Apple, Palm, and Nokia at this time.

The Proof’s in the Pictures, or Is It?

There was a blurry-cam picture taken of the alleged Google Phone. The phone, is said to be be built around Android, is a re-badged version of the HTC Bravo/Passion/Dragon model, and will be unlocked. The below pic is said to be of the Google Phone, aka Nexus One:

google phone coryobrien twitter

From the rumors we’re seeing, there is absolutely nothing really spectacular about the Google Phone and Google would be mindful not to release yet another phone bearing its name without much differentiation.

Then, rumors started pouring in that the Google Phone would be a different business model–the device would be sold unlocked, would be compatible with T-Mobile and AT&T’s 3G network, and be contract-free. That just sounds a little too good to be true and not many companies can succeed with an unlocked model–Apple sold more iPhones once carrier subsidies kicked in; Nokia’s phones, primarily sold unlocked, hasn’t done well in the US because of high prices; and the average consumer won’t know about the unlocked model unless it was at their carrier’s retail stores.

At this point, I am pitting the Google Phone as merely a Google Christmas present to its employees and potentially a Google giveaway to developers later. When the T-Mobile G1 was released, Google made an unlocked version available to developers and gave a number of G1s away at its Android developer conference. Additionally, Google employees were also given G1s that year as Christmas gifts. Google may be making a tradition out of this and rewarding Google employees with the gift of Android this year or next and this may be just Google testing out next generation Android OS 2.1 ahead of its release on an HTC device.

Additionally, even the name of the device–Nexus One–sounds a bit fishy. Sony Ericsson calls its user interface the Nexus and there is iDEN device by Motorola called the Opus One. It looks like someone cleverly merged the two names together in this rumor.

Sample Pictures Taken with the Nexus Camera

google htc nexus one 2009 12 09 15 10 59 engadget

google htc nexus one 2009 12 10 14 51 44 engadget

google htc nexus one 2009 12 11 15 56 45 engadget

A Cruel Practical Joke

And since we’re suckers for gossip–think of how many tabloids get sold–your favorite tech blogs have just become the rags for technology and readers are feeding off of Android news. There the rumors may be started by Apple! If you’re interested in reading the Apple conspiracy theory, you can read it at IntoMobile. For its part, Google already confirmed they’re testing something, and by not stopping these rumors and speculations, they’re working to build hype and generate buzz, so Google is partly to blame too.

Conclusion

Can Google dare to do what Microsoft would not be gutsy enough to do by bringing its own phone hardware to the market? We’d say no. The rumors at this point only serve to prove that the HTC Bravo design is in fact real and would come to the market with Android. It doesn’t prove a “Google Phone” in existence, but it does shed some light on Google being involved in testing new hardware to run its OS.

What are your thoughts?

(References: Engadget, TechCrunch, IntoMobile, Daring Fireball)

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About The Author
Chuong Nguyen