Google's Nexus Phone: A Reality Check
Google Phone mania has hit the Webberlands. If the rumors are to be believed, Google is on the verge of introducing its own mobile phone called the Nexus One. It will be built by HTC, use Android 2.x, be available for use with any U.S.-based GSM network (like T-Mobile's or AT&T's), and be sold directly by Google starting in January.
This story all started with TechCrunch's insistence on the gPhone's existence a few weeks ago, and then got ignited by a handful of tweets from Google employees over the weekend. Like this one:
A friend from Google showed me the new Android 2.1 phone from HTC coming out in Jan. A sexy beast. Like an iPhone on beautifying steroids.
From there, the story snowballed. Citing "people familiar with the matter," the Wall Street Journal has given its stamp of approval to the basics outlined above.
There are even pictures of the phone which -- surprise -- looks identical to the HTC Passion, which has been out for a while. Some wags have even suggested the Nexus will cure all known diseases and replace Viagra as a recreational drug of choice. (We think maybe they were kidding.)
All Google has had to say on the matter was that they were feeding their employees a diet of "Android dogfood" over the holidays. HTC has said even less.
So let's assume all of the above is true. Here's what I want to know.
If this phone were truly so earth shattering, would Google just hand it out like party favors to employees without forcing them into a vow of silence, or at least locking up their Twitter chastity belts? Would the company really be starting a large internal test just weeks before the thing was to be available to consumers? And how would Google, whose only previous hardware product is enterprise-level server appliances, ramp up from no retail operation whatsoever in order to sell a consumer device, in just a few weeks, while most if not all of its employees are on holiday break?
PC Mag's Sascha Segan seems to be the only blogger who's not hyperventilating about the topic. He writes:
The barbaric yawp of desire from Twitter for the "Google Phone" really comes down to another hot, trending Twitter topic last week - something called #attfail. The idea that gets everyone hot under the collar is that Google may sell a phone directly, magically compatible with all U.S. carriers, but somehow without the restrictions and bindings that U.S. carriers place on devices.
What this desire really comes from, of course, is Americans' desperate wish (and it is all about Americans; the rest of the world doesn't have this problem) to see the iPhone on a carrier other than AT&T.
(Kind of like what I said last week about Ma Bell's bastard offspring.)
Segan adds that, even if Google were planning to get into the mobile phone business -- thus ticking off all the Android hardware OEMs and its Open Handset Alliance partners -- this would hardly be earth shattering news. All it would mean is that Google is distributing an unlocked phone in the U.S. just as Nokia has, and as Apple has done in Europe.
Guess what, campers? Unlocked means unsubsidized, and that means expensive. Each iPhone is estimated to cost AT&T between $500 and $600, and they're buying in bulk. One can only guess what a gPhone would cost at retail. You'd really have to be an Android Fandroid with cash to burn and an overpowering desire to be the first geek on the block to own one.
To me, this all sounds a lot more like internal testing of features that will appear in a future Android handset -- most likely from HTC -- some time next year. Maybe that will be sold directly by Google, maybe not. Maybe it will be unlocked and unsubsidized, or maybe not.
Google going directly into the phone business still seems totally whacked to me. They're not in that business, which is already dominated by very experienced players fighting over very low margins. Consumer electronics vendors are hurting. Mobile ads, however, are booming. Why change your business model now?
It's like sitting on the golden goose and deciding goose fertilizer is the market you really want to be in. I don't think Google is that stupid. Do you?
Would you buy the Nexus One? If so, what's the most you'd pay? E-mail me:email@example.com. (And please, keep the goose poop to a minimum.)