Lorin Wood via Last100What would a Google phone look like? BusinessWeek is the latest pub to take a stab at that question by piecing together hints, leaks and speculation: It concludes that Google is trying to launch its own smartphone operating system that would work on various manufacturers’ handsets; the idea would be to offer high-end phones at a substantial discount, perhaps for as little as $100, and make money by featuring Google ads and other services on the phones.
We understand why Google wants to go after the mobile market. Mobile ads barely exist yet but will likely be a huge business one day. Yet we still have many questions about the gPhone and Google’s mobile strategy.
1. Will Google market their own phones or will they rely on a carrier and handset maker to do that for them? Apple split the difference on the iPhone and sold the devices at their own stores and through AT&T’s stores. Google will likely have to lean on a carrier for this: It doesn’t have any retail and marketing expertise, let alone its own retail outlets. And making the case to potential customers for a Google-branded phone will take a lot more work than selling an iPhone. Yet as AT&T just proved with the iPhone launch, the carriers aren’t paragons of customer service, and Google will be wary of relying on them for much.
2. Has Google learned from Apple’s iPhone mistakes? Eric Schmidt is on Apple’s board and should have a very accurate sense of what they’ve done right with the iPhone and where they’ve gone wrong. From a technology perspective, it makes sense that Google would demand features that Apple left off the iPhone, like access to fast, “3G” wireless networks, some sort of GPS-like feature, and better access to corporate email systems to tap the massive business smartphone market. Google may also choose to give third-party software developers wide-open access to the phone, something Apple sidestepped, instead forcing developers to build their apps to run inside the iPhone’s Web browser. And from a marketing perspective, Apple has just provided Google with a very expensive lesson: Make sure you price the phone correctly the first time it goes on the market.
3. What carrier will Google work with? Google has spent months in a PR battle with AT&T and Verizon Wireless over terms for the FCC’s upcoming wireless spectrum auction. T-Mobile is the carrier that’s been most eager to open its network up to outsiders, but the carrier doesn’t yet have a 3G network, which is a problem if you’re trying to push a high-end phone. That makes Sprint the most likely candidate: Google already has a deal to power parts of a portal for Sprint’s upcoming WiMax network. And Sprint, which only recently got their hands on Motorola’s best-selling Razr, and will not likely sell the iPhone for many years, could use any boost it can get.
4. Will Google kick-start mobile micropayments? The concept of using your phone to pay for anything from a McDonalds cheeseburger to a haircut is one of those ideas that never takes off and never goes away. It’s technically possible, but carriers, handset companies, and banks haven’t agreed on how to split the money up. Google has its own Internet payment system, and the U.S. Patent Office has recently published a Google mobile-payment patent application, so the company clearly seems taken with the idea. But there’s another problem: To date consumers seem just fine with cash, checks and credit cards.