Friday, August 31, 2007

GooglePhone? GPhone?

Since late 2006, there has been speculation that Google is prototyping a Google mobile phone, optimized to run Google apps, enable communications between Gtalk users and operate as a standard mobile phone as well. The speculation then was that a launch could occur in 2008.

The rumors are out again, suggesting a device that could sell in the $100 range, not to compete with the iPhone but rather low-cost PCs and other Web-capable devices. The device supposedly is powered by Linux, includes global positioning satellite capabilities, and of course will be optimzied to run Google Maps and other Google software.

Google is said to be showing the prototype to cell phone manufacturers and network operators as it continues to hone the technical specifications that will allow the phone to offer a better mobile Web browsing experience than current products, even the Wall Street Journal has reported.

Perhaps more surprisingly is the apparently-serious talk that Google might try an ad-support model. Maybe someday. That strikes me as requiring too great a change in end user behavior. People don't mind paying something for calling. A more logical approach is a simple flat fee plan for data network usage, including IP-to-IP calls using the data plan, and some for-fee charge for calls that have to terminate on existing mobile and wired networks.

There is a rumor about T-Mobile being a network partner, but that is curious since T-Mobile's data network would provide a horrible end user experience. Perhaps T-Mobile is thinking about a dual-mode approach with connectivity at T-Mobile Hotspots. Despite that, T-Mobile has the most to gain, as it needs to do something to break out of its fourth-place spot in the U.S. mobile market.

Such a GPhone or Google Phone would aim for the "Internet in your pocket" segment of the market, with a heavy emphasis on how it can be a platform for contextual advertising based on user location, not just past behavior. There's always some risk when a supplier tries to create a new segment in the device category. But Apple has done it with the iPod and now with the iPhone.

The Google Phone would have to pioneer another new segment in the handset category as well. That's always challenging. But mobile search is a big deal for Google, providing huge incentives to prime the market.

This image, by the way, is just one conception of what such a device might look like.

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