Thoughts on the "Google Phone"

Over the weekend, what many people have been touting as “the Google phone” became real (Engadget article).  Or at least it seems that way.  While many people are arguing if 1) this is actually the Google phone and 2) if this phone can even bring relevance to the mobile industry, I want to share some of my thoughts.

A Google Phone

To begin with, lets all acknowledge that Google bringing out it’s own device should have been expected from the start.  They have a solid, recognizable brand that people like.  Also, it makes sense for them to have a device completely labeled as their own.  It’s a smart move, especially since Android is in direct competition with the iPhone.  Google bring out a device that, in a way, shows others how to fully utilize the Android platform is good marketing for Android and will result in better Android devices.  Google has some smart people working for them, so it would be safe to say that they could do a lot with their own software to really bring out a showcase device for the platform.

So before going any further, you must first accept the fact that the Google phone exists.  If the Nexus One is actually this phone remains to be seen, as it could simply be a new top-of-the-line HTC device that Google gave to their employees to test new Android features.

Making it Work

Google has to consider a couple of things, in order to make a Google phone succeed.  First and foremost is carrier openness.  They need to at least sell it on each GSM carrier here in the states (T-Mobile and AT&T).  This is of course assuming they don’t sell it unlocked directly to customers.  But to maximize their reach they need to have a version that works across as many 3G networks as possible.

Secondly is price.  If Google sells the phone directly to the consumer in a unlocked fashion (works on T-Mobile or AT&T), they will need to self-subsidize (taking a huge loss) to bring the phone down to a price that most people are willing to pay.  People like the $99/$199/$299 prices of the iPhone.  If the iPhone was sold at it’s unsubsidized price ($500) it wouldn’t sell nearly as many units.  People (here in the US, at least) don’t really want to drop $500-$600 for a mobile phone, even if it means having no carrier contract.  So if Google wants to sell directly to the consumer, they’ll have to find a way to bring the price down.  If they go through a carrier, this becomes less of an issue as the carrier will subsidize the phone in turn bring the price down.

Why the Google Phone is Important

Google needs a device that’s completely their own.  Yes, this phone is an HTC device, but if Google had large amounts of input then it could be considered a Google phone (like the first Zune which was still a Microsoft device but made by Toshiba).  But in the long run, Google needs to be showing people exactly what can be done with the Android platform.  Because lets face it, while some of the Android devices we’ve seen so far are pretty cool they lack some of the “nice-ness” of the iPhone.  Google could create their own device, if for nothing else than to be a showcase for others.

Also, if Google takes steps towards self-subsidizing to bring people to the phone (and thus the platform), that’s important because it will bring the device into more people’s hands.  While I don’t think the Google Phone will beat the iPhone initially, Google has a good enough brand and good will with customers that they could give it a serious run for those iPhone dollars.

In the end, a Google phone will probably do nothing more than 1) showcase the Android platform and 2) give us an idea of what Google thinks a cell phone should be.  One thing that I haven’t seen discussed however is Google’s recent acquisition of Gizmo5, the voice over IP (VOIP) company.  Combined with Google Voice, there is some serious new ideas on how voice service could be handled on mobile devices in the future.  However, until Google says “yes this is the Google Phone” we’re probably just looking at a new Android device that Google is testing new features on.  But we can hope.

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