The Googlephone: What We Know, May Know, and Don’t Know

By  |  Monday, December 14, 2009 at 4:39 am

It’s been a busy weekend for the rumor known as the Googlephone, which has been around for years in one form or another and has recently appeared to be firming up into something that just might be real. Very little is official, but we know a few things for sure, more scuttlebutt has emerged, and it’s still fun to ask questions even if we have no way of answering them yet.

Herewith, a quick recap of where we are as of early Monday morning:

What we know

  • Last week, Google doled out Android phones to employees. It admitted as much in a blog post Saturday morning, which used Silicon Valley’s always-appetizing metaphor of eating one’s own dogfood to explain that the phones were being used to test “new mobile features and capabilities.”
  • The phone apparently is the one in the photo to the right (which I stole from this Twitpic). That would appear to make it a version of an upcoming HTC phone known as the Passion.
  • It’s got a trackball, obviously. If it’s a Passion variant, it also lacks a physical keyboard. It’s a GSM phone, which means it’ll work on AT&T and T-Mobile but not Verizon or Sprint. And Engadget has some more photos and says that it runs Android 2,1,  adds “3D elements to the app tray,” and has Web-OS-style previews of all the home screens. In another post, it says it has MicroSD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 7.2mbps down and 2-MBps up.
  • It’s named (or at least code-named) the Nexus One.

What we may know

  • TechCrunch says it’ll be sold unlocked–direct by Google and at retailers–and adds the following details: “The phone is ‘really, really fast,’ says someone who has seen one in action. It runs on a Snapdragon chip, has a super high-resolution OLED touchscreen, is thinner than the iPhone, has no keyboard, and two mics. The mic on the back of the phone helps eliminate background noise, and it also has a ‘weirdly’ large camera for a phone. And if you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard, a voice-to-text feature is supposed to let you dictate emails and notes by speaking directly into the phone.”
  • All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka is reporting that Google plans to sell the phone without a subsidy from a wireless carrier–but that T-Mobile will help market it. He doesn’t have much in the way of details.

What we don’t know

  • Is it transcendent? Or at least significantly better than the best Android phone to date, Verizon’s Droid? A Googlephone that’s modestly better than the competition is going to be a disappointment.
  • How much will it cost? If Google is simply selling it unlocked and trying to make a profit the old fashioned way–by charging more for the hardware than it costs to make–this phone is almost certainly going to cost $500 or more.
  • Does Google have some radical business model up its sleeve? If the user interface involved Google ads, might it sell the handset at a remarkably low price–or at least one similar to what you’d pay a carrier for a phone on a two-year contract–and make its profit through the commercial messages you’re exposed to?
  • How will Google’s partners feel about a Googlephone? If it’s manufactured by HTC and marketed in part by T-Mobile, they’re okay with it, I guess. But how about Verizon and Sprint and Motorola and Sony Ericsson and Samsung and every other company that’s selling or making Android phones? Will they accept a Googlephone willingly, grumble about it, or punish Google by taking their OS business elsewhere?
  • Can an unlocked, unsubsidized phone be a mainstream hit in the U.S.? I like to buy ‘em myself when possible–I just don’t like committing to a carrier if I can avoid it–but I don’t have a lot of company. Would Google sell a Googlephone that’s a poor-selling niche offering? Or is it going to try to change the way America buys phones?
  • Did Google think it could give Googlephones to vast quantities of its own employees and keep them secret? Or was it all a devious plot to whip up excitement while appearing to keep the phone hush-hush?
  • Is Sascha Segan right? The PCMag.com writer says that everybody’s hyperventilating over what’s probably minor news: this is just a new HTC phone running a new version of Android, and possibly an unsubsidized T-Mobile phone that won’t appeal to many folks.

I still count myself as a supporter of the idea of the Googlephone:  I think most of the fresh ideas that’ll change phones over the next few years will come from companies other than the incumbent wireless carriers and hardware manufacturers, and I’d like to see Google’s vision of what a phone can be in its purest form. You gotta figure that another shoe’s going to drop–maybe several of them. At the very latest, I figure we’ll know all by mid-February, when Mobile World Congress, the phone industry’s big show, gets underway in Barcelona.

Any other Googlephone guesses, wishes, or doubts?

 
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4 Comments For This Post

  1. NQ Logic Says:

    Google is moving down in the stack to challenge B2C opponents with an open architecture and new sets of standards. In creating a post-revenue business model, Google can only manage success if consumers accept a co-branding and outsourced manufactured device … NQ Logic recommends reading about the rest of the new Google’s mobile strategy at http://www.nqlogic.com

  2. John Baxter Says:

    IF this is eventually sold un-subsidized and if it works on the network I can use (AT&T) on a reasonable plan, it will be very tempting. (If I want a smart phone at all in that timeframe.)

    (Unless Verizon has improved locally, it’s out of the picture. Their coverage map suggests they’ve improved if the past is ignored, but it looks exactly the same here as it looked when coverage was unusable. Sprint and T-Mobile remain out of the picture here.)

    –John

  3. heulenwolf Says:

    I love the idea of more carrier-agnostic phones in the US, especially if the phones are as desirable as this one sounds. Getting pricing competitive with T-Mobile’s no-contract plans on competing carriers would be wonderful.

    Of interest to me is that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform is a sister to its Gobi platform: A data radio that supposedly works on any carrier’s network, worldwide. If a vendor combined those platforms such that one phone could truly work on all the carrier’s networks, then we’d really start seeing a compelling reason for consumers to buy their phones without a contract subsidy. It doesn’t sound like the Googlephone is that phone, though.

    I wonder whether the problem is one of RF design or of business entangling alliances. Antennas and RF front-ends that work well on that many frequencies are probably tough to fit into such tight spaces.

  4. Backlin Says:

    The average American consumer would balk at the unsubsidized price of an unlocked smartphone (I showed one of my friends the price of an unlocked iPhone and he couldn’t believe it), but does the average consumer need a smartphone? At the price, I would rather get a 3G netbook.

    And I would put my money on Google putting Windows Mobile on these phones! :D

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