Google’s (GOOG) first mobile phone is a solid debut: A substantial, well-made handset with a powerful operating system. But it’s also pretty much what Google’s competitors have been offering for more than a year — a smartphone with a slide-out keyboard for around $200. If Samsung or Motorola came out with this, we’d nod appreciatively, and move on.
But Google is supposed to be an innovative disruptor — a company that creates businesses where none previously existed, and a company that has the power to destroy well-established competitors. Surely it has more to offer than this.
If Google is going to invest heavily in mobile, we figure they’d really want to make an impact from the outset. We have some sugestions:
- For $100 million, Google could have subsidized the ‘G1’ down to $80 for 1 million people — putting it in a much different, and much larger market than Apple’s (AAPL) $200 iPhone. For $180 million — nothing to Google — it could make this phone free for 1 million people. Imagine the lines for that.
- Alternately, Google could have worked out a deal to subsidise the G1’s data subscription down to a level where normal people — not high-end smartphone buyers — would actually use it. Say, $5-$10 a month, instead of $25 to $35. That’s an investment of several hundred dollars per person over the course of a 2-year contract — up to half a billion dollars if 1 million people buy G1s — but if those people start using the mobile Web and clicking on Google ads, it could start to pay off quickly.
- Something major — anything — hardware or software-wise that Apple or Google’s other rivals don’t have. The “compass” for Google’s Street View maps doesn’t count.
The good news: It’s early. Remember Apple’s first mobile phone project — the still-born ROKR? Exactly. So maybe Google has an iPhone waiting to surprise us somewhere.
We hope so, because so far, we haven’t seen anything that will dramatically shift the mobile phone market. And with less than 20% of U.S. mobile subscribers using the Web on their phones — or being exposed to mobile Web ads — something dramatic still needs to happen if Google is ever going to find that $50 billion mobile advertising market.
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