Google, the internet media giant, has had a large group of
engineers working on a secret project for nearly two years now. Rumors
had leaked that Google was planning to manufacture a next generation of
cell phones, which some observers creatively dubbed the "GPhone."
Now as a
new report indicates Google's true intentions, it appears that the company
has not only done a good job keeping the wraps on its secret project, but that
the project is much more complex than expected.
Google has been working on developing a software platform for cell phones,
which it hopes will create a new business sector. It begins with the
phone operating system (OS). The OS that Google has been working on is a
modified version of Linux, the open source OS. Atop the OS, Google is
Office suite, organization tools, maps, messenger, and email, along with
the rest of its programs to run in cell phone environments. The final
piece of the puzzle is what Google hopes will make the phone truly profitable --
Currently cell phone advertising is a fairly small and specialized
business. Google hopes to expand and transform this niche into a thriving
new market sector.
To demonstrate its technology, it turns out that Google did build phone
prototypes, which it has shown to manufacturers. It has given no
indication that it will put these designs into production, though.
Analysts think that such a move would be unlikely, due to Google's lack of
Karsten Weide an analyst for IDC spoke to the possibility of them developing
phone hardware. “Running a Web site and a search engine is one thing, but
developing a phone is a whole different game. It will not be easy for them,”
While no definitive word has been released by Google at this time, it seems
clear that developing hardware was not the focus of its project.
Rather than competing with the iPhone, these developments reveal that Google
intends to challenge Microsoft for mobile phone OS dominance. Google has
one clear advantage when it comes to its OS: the software comes at no cost,
while Microsoft charges cell phone companies for use of its Windows Mobile OS.
Some see deeper motives to Google's moves than simply gunning for
Microsoft. They see Google's moves as an attempt to loosen the control that
cell phone carriers have on their services and software on their network.
This may trouble some carriers such as AT&T and Verizon who have poured
millions into developing proprietary network services. As a resulth, they are unlikely
to jump at Google's new technology until they see returns on their own.
Few have voiced opinions on Google's move, but the move is being criticized by
one of Google's own partners. Arun Sarin, the chief executive of
Britain’s Vodafone Group, which currently carries Google Service on its phones,
said it is unclear what compelling functions Google's platform would offer that
are not currently available.
Sarin elaborates, “What is it that is missing in life that they are going to
fulfill? It is not a no-brainer. You can reach Google already through a
number of devices. You don’t need a Google phone to do that."
Google’s actions over the past few years seem to confirm speculation that it is
looking to cut control that carriers have over their network software and
services. The company recently successfully lobbied
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to impose a set of rules on any
carriers that win wireless spectrum bids in the upcoming auction. The
rules state that winning bidders who use their spectrum must open their phones
to software and handset applications from any company. Google may even
bid for part of the spectrum according to recent reports.
Google's mobile phone team was built largely around Android, a small mobile
software company it acquired in 2005. Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android,
had founded Danger, which produced the popular T-Mobile Sidekick. Rubin
is currently working on the mobile phone projects at Google's Mountain View
Its chief competition, Microsoft, has released multiple versions of the Windows Mobile OS and is
currently on its sixth iteration. Microsoft currently has distribution
agreements with 48 handset makers and 160 carriers around the world. Microsoft
does not have a huge market share, though. This year 12 million phones have been sold that are based on Microsoft’s software, giving it only 10 percent of the
smartphone market, according to IDC. This leaves much of the market up for
grabs, which is where Google hopes to muscle its way in.
Richard Doherty, director for the Envisioneering Group consulting firm, thinks
small carriers will be among the early adopters as they will jump at Google's
free software offerings. If these are well received, carriers may be forced to
adopt Google's platform. “No one wants to be the last carrier to endorse
Google,” Mr. Doherty said.
Yet another possibility is that if the software platform is easy to download
and install on a majority of phones, individuals who enjoy Google's online
offerings may download its OS for their phones. Such a system would be
highly dependent on user effort, but users’ ability to unlock the iPhone has
demonstrated that they can have the willingness and the ability to modify their
phones, as long as helpful software is provided. If Google goes this
route, carriers like AT&T and Verizon with proprietary technologies may try
to lock their phones from Google's software or "brick" phones that
carry it, similar to Apple and AT&T's latest move to
"brick" unlocked iPhones.
The developments from Google are intriguing. While it becomes clear that
its focus is on providing a software platform, the possibility of a
Google-backed iPhone smartphone competitor remains. Perhaps the party
that should be most worried, however, is Microsoft, as Google looks to provide
an OS with similar capabilities to Microsoft's free of charge. Furthermore,
Google's new advertising based business dynamic is set to provide the latest
chapter in an ongoing move to provide media content for free, funded by
quote: Google has one clear advantage when it comes to its OS: the software comes at no cost, while Microsoft charges cell phone companies for use of its Windows Mobile OS.
quote: I know I don't want them.
quote: but do you get a $300 Cell-Phone
quote: “What is it that is missing in life that they are going to fulfill? It is not a no-brainer. You can reach Google already through a number of devices. You don’t need a Google phone to do that."
quote: There's no free lunch in this world.
quote: They see Google's moves as an attempt to loosen control that cell phone carriers have on their services and software on their network.
quote: Google, the internet media giant
quote: Google, the internet advertisement giant