Google phone rumors are back with a vengeance, spurred on by reports that the Internet behemoth Google is partnering with phone maker HTC on a "super" Android device thinner than the Droid and iPhone. The release date for this Google-branded phone is early 2010, according to TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, who reported a Google Phone was in the works Tuesday.
Rumors of a Google phone are nothing new, although speculation did start to disappear once Android-based phones hit the market last year. But this is the second time a Google phone rumor has popped up in recent weeks, and Arrington's rumor bear a striking resemblance to what we've heard before.
The Real Google Phone
Taking a page out of Apple's "we control the customer experience" playbook, Google reportedly wants to produce a handset that will be completely dictated by the team in Mountain View. Details about the phone are incredibly thin. There's no word on what kind of specs the handset would have, but potential manufacturers for the phone, according to Arrington, include LG and Samsung. A major advertising campaign introducing the phone could reportedly start as early as January 2010.
Google will reportedly sell its phone directly to customers as well as through retailers. That suggests the search giant may not have a network partner on board, and would sell unsubsidized phones instead. Phones sold outside of the carrier system means the Google phone could cost as much as $500, and would have to run on a SIM-friendly GSM networks such as AT&T and T-Mobile.
While a carrier-free Google phone would be an unusual move in the age of exclusivity contracts, it's not unheard of. Handset makers such as RIM and Palm sell unlocked versions of their smartphones through Amazon and other retailers.
The suggestion that the phone will not be tied to a specific carrier, backs up a previous assertion by Northeast Securities analyst Ashok Kumor who made similar claims last month after Google's "design partners" filled him about the phone, according to the Street.com.
The iPhone is Not Beta
A phone experience created and designed exclusively by Google will inevitably draw comparisons with Apple's iPhone. And, as Arrington points out, for good reason. Just as the iPhone is Apple's vision of the handset, a Google-branded phone would be a competing vision of what the smartphone should be.
But while dictating the phone experience makes sense for Apple -- a company that has a long history in designing polished hardware -- Google is not about launching polished products. Can the company that made beta a punchline deliver on a complete customer experience the first time around? Sure, the original iPhone lacked smartphone basics like cut-and-paste, video capability, and MMS. But with the exception of video, those are all software issues. The fact is, from a hardware perspective, the original iPhone was a revolutionary and complete product. There's no question iPhone hardware has improved over time, but that doesn't take anything away from the original design.
Google, on the other hand, is all about delivering an incomplete product and then fixing and improving it over time. But you can't do that with a physical product. For smartphones there is no such thing as beta. You either get it right at launch or you don't. It's as simple as that.
Another question is how Google's Android partners will react to a Google phone? As my colleague JR Raphael pointed out last month, Google has worked hard to convince manufacturers to embrace the Android platform. Changing roles from Android facilitator to Android competitor, could hamper those efforts.