Despite the Google branding, don't count on Google getting into the handset business.
There's a problem with that scenario, however. Gartner projects that there will be 90 million Android devices sold in 2012 and Google will need more than one manufacturing partner like HTC to make, distribute, and market all that hardware. It needs its hardware partners.
Thus, a more likely scenario is that Google has worked with HTC to add some special features to the Nexus One, not unlike the way it worked with Verizon on the Droid phone.
This would be consistent with Google's handling of the Google Search Appliance, the company's enterprise search hardware. Despite the Google branding, Google's partners handle inventory and distribution for the GSA. And Google has taken a similar approach with its Chrome OS netbook partners.
It's also consistent with what Andy Rubin, VP of mobile platforms at Google, said in October, that the company is not making hardware but enabling others to do so.
Dulaney suggests that Google could avoid stepping on its partners' toes by marketing Nexus One as a e-reading device rather than a smartphone.
There's some sense in that, given that Google will soon launch its online book store. But with the widespread industry anticipation of an Apple tablet announcement in late January, it seems unlikely Google, a company not known for its hardware, would go head-to-head with Apple, a company with something of a reputation for hardware, without seeing Apple's hand first.
Dulaney says that Google has to do better with its Android Market. Selling a successful smartphone today, he says, depends on convincing buyers that there's a single, strong provider of apps backing the hardware.
In contrast to the unified branding of Apple's iPhone, open-source Android devices get marketed by a variety of different partners and the message that results is fragmented, he said.
Dulaney says that he suspects the Nexus One is actually aimed at Europe, where the iPhone hasn't yet established itself as strongly as it has in the U.S. T-Mobile, after all, is owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom.