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The Myth of the Google Phone

Tue, 12/15/2009 - 7:19am
Farhad Manjoo

Is the search giant really making its own mobile device? Does it matter?

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.(Slate) - For months, tech blogs have been salivating over the possibility that Google will soon release a cell phone of its own. This discussion has always been a little strange. Google launched its mobile operating system Android two years ago, and we've seen the release of several Android devices since then, including the much-acclaimed Motorola Droid. So aren't all Android phones really "Google Phones?"

 

Not according to the rumor mill, which insists that Google—forced to deal with outside cell manufacturers and mobile carriers—has never had the chance to build the phone it really wants to build. The "real" Google Phone would be designed from top-to-bottom by Google, and the company would sell it directly to customers without any interference from cell carriers. "Like the iPhone for Apple," TechCrunch's Michael Arrington has written, "this phone will be Google's pure vision of what a phone should be."

 

Over the weekend, we got a hint that this mythic Google Phone might be for real. At the company's "all-hands" meeting on Friday, Google gave employees a slick new phone to try out. In no time, descriptions of the device began to leak out on Twitter. Later, the Wall Street Journal added more details: The phone is called the Nexus One, and though it will be manufactured by the Taiwanese company HTC, it will carry only Google's logo and will be sold online directly to consumers, not through a carrier. Thanks to Engadget, which managed to get a gallery of pictures, we also know that the phone is a real looker.

 

Google's only on-the-record statement is vague—on the company blog, it says that it gave employees the device so they can test out "new mobile features and capabilities." So is the Nexus One the true Google Phone, a device set apart from every other Android phone—or is it just the next incarnation of Android, a device meant to show off features that will soon be available on all phones that run Google's OS?

 

If Google really does plan to sell a phone that carries exclusive features—if it is really producing software that it won't share with other device manufacturers—the move would mark a huge rift in the wireless industry. Indeed, that's precisely why I'd argue that the Nexus One isn't anything special. It's entirely possible that Google will experiment with selling a phone directly to consumers, but I'd be shocked if the device did anything that other Android phones can't do.

 

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