By Harry McCracken | Monday, March 21, 2011 at 6:21 am
The Googlephone. It’s a concept that sometimes sounds an exciting taste of the future, and sometimes sounds like it’s already fizzled. And today, it’s back to being exciting: Google has announced that there will be a Sprint 4G version of its fine Nexus S phone–and that it will give consumers all the goodness of Google voice without making them switch their phone numbers. That’ll make it the first true native Google Voice phone.
The news would be noteworthy whenever it came down, but the timing is fascinating. It came down hours after AT&T agreed to acquire T-Mobile–there latter being the carrier that partnered with Google for the Nexus One and original Nexus S, and the only national carrier other than Sprint that counts as a scrappy underdog. Sprint needs good news; Google needs a wireless partner that isn’t T-Mobile and that doesn’t insist on acting like an 800-pound gorilla. Short of Google buying a phone carrier, there are all kinds of interesting things it could do with Sprint if the two companies agreed to let Google take the sort of dominant role that Apple took with the iPhone but which otherwise just doesn’t happen.
Of course, Apple’s iOS is only available on Apple phones, while Android is primarily a piece of open-source software available on hundreds of phone models. The Nexus S and Nexus One were already odd glimpses of an alternative reality in which Google takes an activist role in Android hardware development and makes sure that everything’s just the way it should be. But the company seems comfortable with with this side bet. Android honcho Andy Rubin describes the Nexus S this way in his post about the Sprint news:
Nexus S 4G is part of the Nexus line of devices which provide a pure Google experience and run the latest and greatest Android releases and Google mobile apps.
I guess that means that every Android phone that isn’t a Nexus makes no guarantees about whether it offers a pure Google experience or runs the latest and greatest versions of Android and Google apps–which is another way of saying that Google’s okay with the possibility that the vast majority of Android phones might have a stale feel about them.
I made the mistake of buying one such phone, the Verizon Fascinate–a nice piece of Samsung hardware with such a butchered, obsolete version of Android that–as a friend pointed out to me–Google refuses to even mention it on its list of Android handsets. I was already toying with the idea of buying a T-Mobile Nexus S; now it’s the Sprint version that looks attractive.