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3/6/2007
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Is The Google Phone Its Next Super-Secret Project?

Insiders believe Google is planning to build distribution relationships with multiple carriers to help develop voice and data services.

Now that the Apple iPhone has made the transition from rumor to promise, talk has turned to the possibility of a Google phone.

Blogger and VC Simeon Simeonov provided the latest installment of "Google's Next Super-Secret Project" with news from a "inside source" detailing a future Google phone.

Previous episodes have explored Google's plans to: buy up dark fiber to route around hostile cable and telephone companies; collaborate with Wyse Technology to make a thin-client PC; place data centers in shipping containers around the country; and fabricate its own processors.

Simeonov identifies Andy Rubin, founder of Danger, Inc. and Android, a 2005 Google acquisition, as the leader of a 100-person team working on a Google phone. He describes it has a "Blackberry-like, slick device" with "many services, including VoIP" that runs a C++ core in conjunction with Java and possibly Linux and includes vector-based presentation similar to what Google acquired when it bought Skia.

"Apparently, Google is planning to build distribution relationships with multiple carriers by allowing them to minimize subscription and marketing costs," says Simeonov in a blog post. "In other words, Google will market the phone online and carriers will fulfill."

That begs the question: Why bother? Google has already struck a deal with Samsung to get software like Google Search, Google Maps, and Gmail on Samsung handsets. It's a player in the phone software market. Having its own phone hardware makes no sense absent the sort of device competency Apple has demonstrated.

It might make sense, however, if Google is making a multi-function portable device that happens to handle voice communications. On the IP Democracy blog, Cynthia Brumfield, president of media consultancy Emerging Media Dynamics, Inc., makes this very point, wondering whether the rumored Google device should really be called a phone. "My phone stinks and can't do much that's interesting, while these gadgets support everything from video viewing to Internet access to word processing to easy information sharing," she laments.

Her dissatisfaction is a common theme among mobile phone users. Mobile phone services drew 31,671 Better Business Bureau complaints in 2005, more than any other industry. When Apple announced its iPhone, one common disappointment cited by bloggers, pundits, and journalists was that Apple had re-invented the phone but not the mobile phone industry, which restricts the portability and functioning of its hardware far more than the computer industry. Columbia law school professor Tim Wu last month published a paper calling for wireless industry reform, hoping to end the network discrimination and product and feature crippling practiced by mobile carriers.

If there really is a Google phone, pray that voice communication is the least of its capabilities.

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