The 'Google phone' is a 'mobile lab' for employees and partners
Published: 14 December, 2009
The Google phone has been anticipated for years - long before Android became real, leaks about the operating system were assumed to relate to an actual device. Recently, the latest rumors surfaced that the search giant was looking to go a step beyond the heavy branding and user interface control it has in its partners' Android phones, to create its own gadget. Like the equally rumored Microsoft phone, this would seem to create all kinds of conflicts of interest with Android licensees, but in fact, the 'gPhone' looks likely to be a developer platform rather than a commercial consumer offering.
This would extend the existing Google strategy of working closely with operators and ODMs to codevelop Android phones and other devices, in order to expand the reach of the open OS and push it deeply into the heart of carriers' own-label web platforms - Verizon Wireless being the most high profile example to date. With a Google phone, which would be given away to developers, the process of seeding the Android Market and expanding the ecosystem would be further accelerated.
The Google phone is, at least, a reality now, though only employees of the search firm can actually get one. In a post on the Android Blog, Google's VP of product management, Mario Queiroz, wrote over the weekend: "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. Unfortunately, because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details."
This, of course, is a direct emulation of a long-used Microsoft technique and Google is likely to copy its rival further, by turning the experimental gadget into a fully fledged reference design, for use by operators and ODMs to bring phones to market with relatively low cost and time investment. An important impact of a platform fully controlled by Google could be to avoid the biggest risk to Android, its fragmentation as different vendors start to build their own environments on top of it. Google looks to be trying to make its own implementation the de facto reference platform, but if it has any sense (and it does), it will stop short of putting its own brand on a consumer device and taking on its own customers.
In fact, the 'mobile lab' device is hardly a fully original Google design, but in fact an HTC phone running the upcoming Android 2.1 release. Jason Howell of CNet TV had a brief look at the device and said on Twitter that "it looked like the HTC Touch, but was a lot thinner...it was a slick looking thing and very nice." He also noted a trackball and four standard Android menu controls, and a "supersharp" display comparable to that of the Motorola Droid. Bloggers have also speculated on a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, OLED touchscreen and even a name (Nexus One, according to The Wall Street Journal). HTC may have made the hardware, but all the software and apps come from Google itself and will help to test out some new concepts.