'Google phone' fever high on eve of Android event

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Google is expected to step into the mobile arena Tuesday with its own Nexus One smartphone in a direct challenge to Apple's heavyweight iPhone handsets.

Google is expected to step into the mobile arena Tuesday with its own Nexus One smartphone in a direct challenge to Apple's heavyweight iPhone handsets. (AFP file)

Google has seized the spotlight in a week when the technology world's attention would typically turn to a premier Consumer Electronics Show that officially begins Thursday in Las Vegas.

"Everybody seems to think it is a Google-supplied phone," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said on the eve of what the Internet giant has dubbed an "Android press event" at its Mountain View, California, headquarters.

"It doesn't make any sense. It can't be a true Google phone. I think it is about Android software, but everyone today is guessing."

A true Google phone would be one shipped by the Internet firm, according to the analyst, who believes it is more likely that new generation Android software and applications are being crafted into hardware sold by the manufacturer.

"You could call it a Google phone, but it is not going to be a Google phone," Dulaney said.

"If it really is a Google phone, they are going to make people mad. I don't think they are that stupid."

Google selling its own phone would irk makers of handsets based on Android software.

Internet buzz surrounding Nexus One included some reports by people claiming to have toyed with the touch-screen smartphones.

One reviewer lauded the Nexus One as a worthy rival for the iPhone, while another contended that Google's mastery of software wasn't reflected in the hardware.

The Internet search and advertising giant has already gained a foothold in the market with its Android mobile operating system, featured in a number of phones starting with T-Mobile's G1 in October 2008 and more recently with the Droid from Motorola.

But the Nexus One, designed by Taiwanese handset maker HTC, represents a significant departure in that Google is expected to sell the Google-branded phone directly to consumers who will not be tied to any one telecom carrier.

Apple's popular iPhone, for example, is available exclusively in the United States through AT&T, but buyers of the "Google phone" will reportedly have their choice of wireless carriers.

Technology blog Gizmodo, citing leaked documents, said the Nexus One will cost 530 dollars "unlocked" -- meaning it isn't tied to a specific carrier -- or 180 dollars with a two-year service agreement with T-Mobile, a subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG.

Google has been coy about any plans to jump headfirst into the fast-growing smartphone market, dropping hints but not confirming its intentions outright.

Agence France-Presse and other media outlets have been invited to a press event on Tuesday at Google headquarters.

"With the launch of the first Android-powered device just over a year ago, we've seen how a powerful, open platform can spur mobile product innovation," the invitation said. "And this is just the beginning of what's possible."

Among the hints dropped by Google was a blog post last month in which the company said employees were testing a mobile product internally in an exercise known in the industry as "dogfooding."

Google's plunge into the smartphone market has drawn a mixed reaction.

"It looks like Google is moving to see if they can do the Apple thing," said analyst Rob Enderle, of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley, in a reference to the iPhone, which has enjoyed phenomenal success since it was introduced in 2007.

Pointing to Google's pending 750-million-dollar acquisition of mobile advertising company AdMob, a number of analysts said Google hopes to replicate its Web advertising success in the mobile space.

Ovum research fellow Jonathan Yarmis said Google will have to walk a fine line between marketing its own smartphone and being a supportive partner for the growing number of firms making their own handsets based on Android.

Although Android's share of the US smartphone market is relatively small, it has doubled in the past year to 3.5 percent in October, according to comScore, and Gartner predicts Android-based smartphones will capture 14 percent of the global market by the year 2012.

Source: AFP

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