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8/29/2007
04:42 PM
Stephen Wellman
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Will Google Announce A Linux-Powered Mobile Phone OS Next Week?

The Google Phone rumors are now in overdrive. Last week I blogged that Google could be preparing to launch the Google Phone in India. Since then more clues have floated to the surface.

The Google Phone rumors are now in overdrive. Last week I blogged that Google could be preparing to launch the Google Phone in India. Since then more clues have floated to the surface.The first rumor centers around a "tip" reported by John Biggs at CrunchGear. Here is a look:

A HTC insider sent us a tip this weekend about an upcoming gPhone coming out of Taiwan that should launch Q1 2008. Google is currently assessing over twenty HTC models and refining its final handset design and will create a special version of Google Maps, compatible with built-in GPS, and compatibility with Gmail and the calendar app. There is also some talk that Samsung will be releasing gPhone handsets as well, but that has not been confirmed.

One extremely interesting point? Google Talk will become a part of the phone, adding VoIP capability to the hardware.

That sounds interesting. This rumor, like the one from last week, seems to indicate that Google is working on suite of cell phone applications specifically customized for a special handset or set of handsets.

After the CrunchGear rumor, Engadget stoked the flames even higher, breaking news of a possible Google mobile phone OS:

We understand that the "Gphone OS" (our name for it, not theirs) began development after Google's very quiet 2005 acquisition of mobile software company Android, started by Danger cofounder and former-prez / CEO Andy Rubin. At Google, Andy's team has developed a Linux-based mobile device OS (no surprise) which they're currently shopping around to handset makers and carriers on the premise of providing a flexible, customizable system -- with really great Google integration, of course.

As for the timeframe on this thing, we keep hearing Google will announce its mobile plans some time post-Labor Day (September 3rd); from what we've heard Google isn't necessarily working on hardware of its own, but is definitely working with OEMs and ODMs to get them to put the Gphone OS on upcoming devices. Think of it more in terms of Windows Mobile or Palm OS (in the early days) -- Google wants to supply the platform, but we don't think they want to sell hardware. Still, don't entirely rule out the idea. Andy Rubin knows how to make a device and put it in peoples' hands, so nothing is impossible on the hardware side. Either way, we're totally stoked to peep the software, we've been waiting for the Googlephone for years on years.

And there is still more. Blogger Mark Hopkins on Monday claimed that a Google employee confirmed plans for the Google Phone:

I talked to one of my inside sources at Google today. He spoke on conditions of anonymity, but the guy is someone I trust implicitly. He said that he was baffled at Google's apparent internal confusion on the GPhone issue - that they've actually demo'ed the thing in public before.

He said that the Google (applications) Suite is going to play a huge role in the usability of the GPhone, and the thought process behind it's functionality is less about beating the iPhone and more about beating the $100 Laptop, which provides a huge clue behind what will be the pricing structure on this.

So, if we piece together all these rumors, the Google Phone will be cheap (probably around $100 or less), run on some form of Linux OS that Google has helped design through its acquisition of Android, and have integrated GPS and GoogleMaps. This phone will likely be subsidized by Google in some way -- I imagine more in developing markets where Google sees the mobile Web as the future of its business -- and the device's main purpose will be to get more eyeballs on Google's applications and its advertisements.

This model -- one where Google designs an OS and a set of applications and recruits hardware manufacturers -- seems to mesh with the company's current strategy. It also plays to Google's strengths while leaving the heavy lifting of hardware to those who know how to do it.

Given the growing popularity of Google's mobile applications, this phone could have big ticket appeal with consumers.

This looks a lot like Microsoft's WinMo strategy - design the OS and the apps and work through hardware makers -- except that it also leverages Linux and some form of open source. Google can use Linux and open source to push inexpensive smartphones to a mass market, and thus grow the mobile Web, where it stands to make money from advertisements. But it's more disruptive than that. This model could also allow Google to compete head-on with more mass market handset makers, like Nokia and Samsung, something the iPhone's price point will not allow Apple to do. Of course, this is all still rumor, at least for now. We'll have to wait until after Labor Day to see if all of this is for real.

What do you think, is the Google Phone for real this time? Or is this just more hot air from the rumor mill?

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