Reality Check: Google Phone Far From a Sure Thing

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Google Phone
Reading some of the Web's headlines today, you'd be hard-pressed not to think the so-called Google Phone is as good as on store shelves. Fresh from the tech page of Google News:

• "Get Ready for the Google Phone"

• "Google Building Its Own Android Phone"

• "The Google Phone: Coming Soon"

And, last but certainly not least:

• "The Google Phone Does Exist"

To be clear, what we're talking about here is a Google-branded, Google-sold Android device. It's something that's been discussed for months but has recently gained new momentum -- and, as of today, is officially being referred to as fact.

Before you buy into the idea that a Google Phone is absolutely on the way, I'd like to raise some healthy skepticism about the source of the information.

The Google Phone Buzz

The new Google Phone fodder comes by way of Michael Arrington, the man behind tech blog TechCrunch. In a story posted Tuesday night, Arrington stated that the Google Phone is "very real, and it's coming soon."

From his report:

"There are a few things we have absolutely confirmed: Google is building their own branded phone that they'll sell directly and through retailers. ... Like the iPhone for Apple, this phone will be Google's pure vision of what a phone should be."

A follow-up story posted on Wednesday goes on to state that the phone may be a "data-only, VOIP-driven device," and that AT&T is "already bidding for the business."

Rumor vs. Fact

Here's the truth: Google may very well have something like this in the works. It strikes many in the tech industry as unlikely -- but hey, anything's possible. The point, however, is that contrary to what many reports are implying, we simply don't know.

The blogosphere is chock-full of "insider sources" and "leaked information," and most of the details we hear from those venues are asserted as near-certainties. (Just today, in fact, I heard that the Google Phone might even interact directly with your brain. Sources "close to the project" even said so.) In reality, of course, many of the rumors prove to be far less accurate than they first appear.

Michael Arrington and TechCrunch in particular have jumped on rumors plenty of times before. Perhaps most prominent was this past spring's Google-is-buying-Twitter debacle, in which Arrington stated with fairly firm authority that an acquisition was practically a done deal.

"Google is in late stage negotiations to acquire Twitter," he wrote, citing "two separate people close to the negotiations" for the information. "We don't know the price but can assume it's well, well north of the $250 million valuation that they saw in their recent funding."

That rumor, as we now know, proved to be incorrect.

Contradicting the Claims

Michael Arrington's editorial judgment in regard to reporting rumors has come under question on more than a few other occasions. And, in our current instance, Google itself has flat-out denied what he's suggesting. The company described the notion of the Google Phone as little more than "market rumor" when the concept first re-entered the news cycle several weeks ago. And, not long after, Andy Rubin -- Google's vice president of engineering for Android -- went on the record as directly saying the company was "not making hardware."

"Rubin ... scoffed at the notion that the company would 'compete with its customers' by releasing its own phone," a report by CNET said.

(Arrington, incidentally, responded to this in part by saying that "many companies deny the existence of products until the day they announce them.")

Here's the one certainty in all of this discussion: Writing an anonymously sourced story with a strongly worded headline -- you know, one like "The Google Phone Is Very Real. And It's Coming Soon" -- is sure to attract a lot of attention. Attention equals traffic. And traffic equals income.

Only time will tell if there's any more to this equation.

JR Raphael is co-founder of geek-humor site eSarcasm. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is not developing his own tablet device.

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