Google will begin selling its own, unlocked smartphone running its Android platform sometime next year, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The device, which is being called Nexus One, will be made by HTC and will be sold online without wireless service. Customers will have to buy service separately, according to the report that cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter.
The report did not specify any pricing or launch details, or whether the device would be subsidized in some form. The report said Google has kept Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA in the loop about the phone, and has not ruled out the possibility of selling the phone through a carrier's store at some point.
Rumors of a Google designed and branded phone are not new. However, in October Andy Rubin, director of mobile platforms at Google, quashed a rumor that the company was planning to release its own phone, noting that Google would not compete with its customers. "We're not making hardware," Rubin told CNET in an interview. "We're enabling other people to build hardware."
Google offers its Android smartphone platform for free to handset makers, and a range of companies including Motorola, Sony Ericsson, LG, Samsung, Kyocera and others have either released Android phones or are planning to.
Though Google did not confirm the Journal report, a spokeswoman pointed to a Google Mobile blog post by Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management: "We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe," Queiroz wrote. "This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it."
According to the AllThingsD blog, T-Mobile will support the launch of Google's phone by pushing it via distribution channels and providing support infrastructure.
If Google decides to release its own phone, it could have significant ramifications for the Open Handset Alliance, the consortium of wireless carriers and handset makers that support the Android platform. If Google decides to subsidize the device, it could potentially have a very disruptive effect, analysts said.
"While carriers express mixed feelings about subsidies, phones are their primary tool for attracting and retaining subscribers, and service contracts are how they initially secure customer loyalty (or, at least, commitment)," Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin wrote in a blog post. "If subscribers can get a cutting-edge handset from Google, shop for the best plan, and take that handset to another provider as soon as a better service offer comes out, carriers will have to re-think what loyalty means."
Others said Google might be willing to ignore the potential antagonism such a move could create. "We don't have the answers other than Google is very serious about the wireless opportunity," industry analyst Jeff Kagan wrote in a note about the news. "Their first generation of the Android operating system has not been anywhere near as robust as Apple with the iPhone. Google has blood in their eyes. They see a huge opportunity and they won't rest until they have a sizeable piece of it."
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