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11/18/2009
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Google Phone Coming, Report Claims

But for many, a Google phone doesn't make sense.

Though Google has said it isn't planning to release a Google-branded phone, a report published on Tuesday claims otherwise.

"Get ready for the Google Phone," declared TechCrunch's Michael Arrington on Tuesday. "It's no longer a myth, it's real."

Just a month ago, Google was saying the opposite. In October, Andy Rubin, VP of mobile platforms at Google, told CNet, "We're not making hardware. We're enabling other people to build hardware."

So which is it? A Google spokesperson declined to comment on whether Rubin's assertion still stands.

On Thursday, Arrington hedged his claim by stating that the Google phone could be a data-only VOIP-device.

That sounds like an iPod with a carrier data plan, tuned for Google Voice. It could be the perfect gift for those who feel they're not already paying enough for their mobile phone service, if it's real.

William Stofega, IDC program manager for mobile device technology and trends, said it wouldn't surprise him to see a Google-branded phone, given that the original G1 phone didn't have the HTC name on it and that Motorola's new Droid phone has Google branding on the back of it.

"Google certainly has the money to go into Taiwan and do a white-box build," he said. "But what's the end result and what can get there in a more efficient manner? I just don't see what having a piece of hardware, rather than a piece of software, would accomplish."

Other industry observers share Stofega's skepticism.

Building a Google-branded phone, says Stofega, could alienate the mobile carriers that have been supporting Android, carriers that are probably already worried about Google's designs on non-network revenue.

And that's just what Google wants to avoid as the Android platform builds momentum.

"It's all the rage," said Stofega about Android's growing popularity. "I think that there are a lot of handset vendors that are saying this is a good opportunity to leverage a growing base of users."

The Android ecosystem is poised to mount a serious challenge to market leaders Nokia, RIM, and Apple, though its Q3 2009 market share only reached 3.5%, compared to 17% for Apple's iPhone, according to Gartner.

In its competition with Apple, Google has reason to focus more on software rather than on hardware. While Apple has the upper hand in terms of the number of third-party applications available for the iPhone, that advantage is diminishing as third-party porting tools emerge.

Stofega believes that the lack of porting tools -- which allow developers to easily rebuild their applications on other platforms -- has been holding the Android platform back. That's changing, he says, with products like Ideaworks Labs' Airplay SDK, a development toolkit that allows developers to write code once and then deploy it on iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, BREW and other platforms.

InformationWeek and Dr. Dobb's have published an in-depth report on how Web application development is moving to online platforms. Download the report here (registration required).

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