Google ponders risky Android solo act with Nexus One
Google employees were given free Nexus One phones at a company party Friday night, and the Internet went into a tizzy. Reports surfaced later in the weekend that this device was the long-awaited Google phone, the company’s answer to Apple’s strategy of controlling the hardware, software, and distribution model with the iPhone, rather than the partner-oriented strategy of developing the guts of the operating system and letting partners each put their own stamp on the finished product.
Just two months ago, Google’s Andy Rubin rolled his eyeswhen asked about an analyst report picked up by TheStreet.com that said Google planned to pursue this exact strategy. He said Google had no plans to make its own hardware–which is one thing since smartphones are almost exclusively manufactured by contractors in China and Taiwan–but he took a further step in spending about 10 minutes arguing why it would be a bad idea for Google to design its own phone and sell it outside of carrier channels.
That line of thinking resonated with many who follow Google and the mobile industry. After all, Google’s stated goal for Android ever since the project was revealed in November 2007 was to create an “ecosystem” of multiple phones that would help improve access to the mobile Internet. And Google seemed to finally reach that goal this year, with over a dozen phones in the wild and more promised from some of the world’s leading phone makers and wireless carriers.
But if the reports are correct, Google is about to make a radical departure from that strategy. And Google’s new course would take it down a path that could sow distrust among the company’s Open Handset Alliance partners, who must now be wondering if they’re about to get into a marketing war with one of the tech industry’s richest companies.
Katie Watson, a Google representative, said on Sunday that the company has confirmed nothing about its plans for the Nexus One, described as a “dogfooding” experiment for internal testing by the company in a blog post Saturday.
In the rush to anoint the Nexus One as the Google Phone, it’s quite possible that the tech industry glossed over the fact that Google already sells Android phones, albeit on a limited basis. For quite some time, registered Android developers have been able to buy completely unlocked versions of the G1 and the T-Mobile MyTouch3G (also known as the Google Ion) for $399.
If Google plans to sell the Nexus One directly to consumers, will it insist upon using its brand as the lead brand, rather than the “With Google” branding found on the back of many Android phones? Will it blast the airwaves during the NFL playoffs in January to trumpet the arrival of the Nexus One, perhaps just in time for the Super Bowl? And how will that affect partners such as Motorola and Verizon that have sunk so much money into promoting the Droid, only to see rumors of a Google Phone leak out at the worst possible time: the height of the holiday shopping season?