If you’re in the market for an Android phone, today’s buzz about a Google phone – for real – just put another wrench into the decision-making process.
By a “Google phone,” I mean one that is much more closely aligned to Google than anything that has thus far come out. Google isn’t calling it a “Google phone” and doesn’t say it will offer it direct to the public, but this is the first time the company has acknowledged a phone exists, and speculation is rampant that this is The Phone.
In a blog post, Google Vice President of Product Management Mario Queiroz described how Google is “dogfooding” to a new level this holiday season. Dogfooding refers to “eating your own dogfood,” he explains, so employees test out the product in order to improve upon it. The device combines hardware “from a partner” with software that runs on Android. “Because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details,” he writes.
TechCrunch reports it’s an unlocked GSM phone built by HTC. Maybe this doesn’t change everything right this minute. But if I were Motorola or Verizon Wireless, I wouldn’t be too happy about this latest revelation. Maybe that’s all the more reason for Verizon to blast away with its ads comparing its 3G coverage with AT&T’s. If Google’s device is GSM, the two nationwide choices are AT&T and T-Mobile USA.
Tech bloggers have speculated for some time now that Google would produce a branded phone of its own. I was suspicious of those reports. Would Google really want to alienate carriers? Well, duh. Despite its “groundbreaking” agreement with Verizon that was announced it October, Google can do whatever it darn well pleases. It’s already been as disruptive a force at the regulatory/public policy level as Apple has been in the device space.
Of course, Google can dictate specs to an OEM like HTC and let HTC do the actual manufacturing. And Google can sell it with Wi-Fi, VoIP and/or offer an unlocked option for people. Surely, people are already speculating when Google would do a CDMA-based device with its own hardware specs. Maybe it’s just waiting for LTE.
Selling a phone directly to the public isn’t a new idea. Nokia has done it in the United States through its flagship stores, which are now set to close early next year. Nokia’s brand, while huge in many parts of the world, isn’t as big as the Google brand in the United States. An unlocked version of a Google phone could really rock the wireless world.
I take the Google post’s word for it that it’s in a “dogfooding” stage and not ready for public distribution. Who knows how long the dogfooding stage will last? If the company has enough of the Android 2.1 phones to distribute to its employees worldwide, it can’t be that far off, and TechCrunch pegs it for a January launch. Even if the phone isn’t ready for distribution early next year, it’s already got some people thinking twice about what they’re going to buy this holiday season. Naughty or nice, it looks like Christmas lasts all year long for Google.