Google will be holding a news conference today where the company is expected to unveil its new smartphone. Tech blogs have been buzzing for quite some time with speculation that such a phone existed. Today, we'll get some details. Will the Google phone revolutionize the smartphones? I doubt it, but that doesn't mean its presence in the market isn't significant.
Since the phone hasn't been publicly released, details are still sketchy, but I actually happened to see the Google phone a few weeks ago. I was having drinks with a friend of mine who works for Google, and she was one of many employees beta testing the device. Although I didn't get a full picture of the phone or its capabilities, from what I did observe, it appeared to be just another nice smartphone. When I asked her if she liked it, she said yes, but didn't geek out on me about how great it was -- like virtually every iPhone owner I've ever met.
I found that a little worrying for Google. If one of its own employees isn't extremely impressed with the phone, what will a public with far less allegiance to Google think?
They will also like it, but also aren't doing cartwheels. An ABC news clip included with an article about the device from Silicon Valley's MercuryNews.com speaks to this point. In that clip, a few people who have no association to Google, but have used the phone, give their reactions. First, an editor from AllThingsD who has gotten to play with the phone reports that it's a good smartphone. She likes the screen, camera, mapping and integration with Google services. But she still prefers her iPhone. Another technology columnist is also not that impressed. He expected a revolutionary device, but instead he thinks it's "just a nice phone."
What's also troubling is the pricing. The article says:
Google is expected to offer consumers two options for buying the Nexus One, according to reports. They can pay $180 for it if they sign up for a two-year T-Mobile contract. Or they can pay $530 without a contract.
With a contract, that's almost as much as the iPhone 3GS ($199). You can get the iPhone 3G for just $99. And without a contract, well, that's just an awful lot of money for consumers to spend on a mobile device. Sure, they can use it with any service provider*, but I don't believe many people will find that worth such an overwhelming price tag.
So is the Google phone doomed? Of course not. It's a really good phone. There's little doubt that a lot of people will buy one. But what I'm a little skeptical about is whether it has the chops to dethrone the iPhone as the premiere smartphone. I don't see that happening.
But maybe Google doesn't either. We should keep in mind that Google has some expectation for its smartphone, and that expectation is probably realistic. It's a software company, so it would be ludicrous to think that its foray into hardware could be so incredibly triumphant to overtake the market and dwarf revolutionary devices like the iPhone, Blackberry and Droid. So I find it a little hard to believe that Google would have such outlandish expectations.
Instead, I suspect the company just wants to be a participant in the extremely important smartphone market. It probably wants a respectable market share, but isn't looking to create any sort of earth-shaking paradigm change in mobile devices. Since the phone is a good device, it will appeal to some consumers, so that will be accomplished. And by providing access to all of its services, like Google Voice, other smartphone makers that aren't as eager to allow integration of all-things-Google will feel more pressure to do so. So even if the Google phone doesn't trump all others, it might not have to for the company to view the product as a success.
* As a few commenters have pointed out, this isn't precisely true. What I mean by this is that an unlocked phone does provide more service provider flexibility than, say, the iPhone which is locked to AT&T.