Stuart Dredge writes…
It’s time to crank up the GooglePhone rumour again. According to a Wall Street Journal article, Google has invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” on its own range of mobile handsets, which are at the prototype stage and are being shown to operators, with the aim of putting them on sale next year.
They’ll be made by existing manufacturers (LG has been pinpointed as one likely partner), and apparently Google’s specs guidelines suggest they’ll have cameras, Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS built in. The WSJ even cites people who’ve seen the prototypes: “One was likened to a slim Nokia Corp. phone with a keyboard that slides out. Another phone format presented by Google looked more like a Treo or a BlackBerry”.
What I’m struggling to understand, however, is how these GooglePhones would benefit Google more than its current strategy of launching applications and services that work on any handset.
There are loads of good reasons why mobile is a hugely important market for Google going forward. Search is becoming increasingly important, for example, and the way the operators are throwing open their walled garden portals to let their customers access the open internet means there’ll be an increasing need for, well, Google to make sense of it.
What’s more, the way mobile phones are evolving seems to play into various Google services and applications. People are emailing more on their phones (hello Gmail), they’re starting to use location-based services (hey Google Maps), and just about everyone in the mobile industry is getting giddy with excitement about the potential of mobile advertising (yo mobile AdSense).
All of these are compelling reasons for Google to be spending lots of money on mobile. But none of them seem to point to the specific strategy of finding partners to make GooglePhones, any more than what’s happening in the Web 2.0 world is a reason for Google to commission its own GooglePCs to sell.
Yes, the advantage of a GooglePhone is that Google can preload all the software it wants on the handset, and make sure it’s the primary method for searching / emailing / managing your calendar. But then as more and more mobile users get to grips with the mobile internet, will such a hands-on role be necessary? You can already go to www.google.mobi using your phone and download all the Google apps and access the services, after all.
Of all companies, Google is well placed to teach people how to download applications onto their phone or use the mobile internet – it’s already got enormous traffic to whom it can promote its mobile offerings. And it’s not done too badly at signing deals with mobile operators or handset manufacturers already.
So, again, what’s the compelling reason for Google to make a GooglePhone, and for us consumers to buy one? Hundreds of millions of dollars supposedly already invested in the project suggests Google thinks there is one. I’m not so sure.
Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest, and most days is unable to walk down a street without a quick peek at his mobile Gmail.