A Phone That Google Can Call Its Own?

TheStreet’s Scott Mortiz is reporting that Google plans to sell a phone of its own. The device will supposedly run Android (of course) and will go on sale at retail stores this year (and hey, that means soon–there isn’t very much 2009 left). It would be an unlocked phone that would run on AT&T, T-Mobile, and most carriers around the world, and Google is supposedly undertaking the project to get more control over the integration of the device with its own services.

Moritz based his story on a report by analyst Ashok Kumar, who says he’s spoken with hardware companies involved in bringing the product to market. According to this GigaOM post, Kumar also says that Google will release a netbook (presumably running Chrome OS) next year, and that both the phone and the netbook will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon CPU.

Despite the confident tone of Mortiz’s piece, my instinct is to be skeptical about the prospect of Google entering the phone business. Android is starting to take off as a platform, thanks to its enthusiastic adoption by a whole bunch of companies, including Verizon, Motorola, HTC, and others. Wouldn’t they rather see Google as a partner rather than a competitor? Even if Google went to extreme lengths to avoid giving preferential treatment to its own device, it would be bound to leave other Android supporters feeling uneasy, and possibly eyeing other options.

Then there’s the notion that the Googlephone would be sold unlocked, not through carriers. I’m a fan of unlocked phones myself, and will happily pay a premium for ‘em. But the market for unlocked phones is tiny–in the U.S., anyhow–because prices are so much higher than the deals you can get by signing up for a contract. Google being Google, it might pull a game-changing move that would result in an affordable unlocked phone, but you gotta think that doing that would make its partners even unhappier.

I may be doubtful, but I hope Google does release its own phone. Aside from the wealth of iPhone apps, the iPhone’s greatest advantage over the competition is the sheer seamlessness of its integration of hardware device and the iTunes-related services. Many companies try to ape Apple’s level of hardware-software-service integration, and very few even come close. But it’s ultimately a noble goal, and I’d like to see what Google would do with Android if its only goal was to make the very best Google phone possible. It would drive other Android supporters bonkers, but it might (A) make consumers very happy, and (B) keep Apple on its toes…

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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