You've got to love the name T-Mobile USA, Google and HTC chose for the fascinating new phone they launched with a splash on Tuesday.
You’ve got to love the name T-Mobile USA, Google and HTC chose for the fascinating new phone they launched with a splash on Tuesday.
“G1” sounds like a secret agent or a new bomber, launching an attack on Microsoft, Apple and Nokia.
It’s a big clue that even though the product is a joint effort, what’s really special is that it’s Google’s first big leap into phones and handheld computer — in case you didn’t notice the search company’s name in big letters on the back of the device, or its trademark applications on the screen.
But don’t get your hopes up about a new line of Google-brand phones.
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Despite the awesome power of its cuddly brand, Google’s probably going to tone it down on future phones using its software.
Remember, Google really is an Internet software and advertising company, and its aim with the G1 isn’t to build a hardware brand rivaling Apple’s iPhone.
The G1 is basically a reference design that Google is using to demonstrate the capabilities of the “Android” operating system software and mobile Internet services it’s developing.
Technically it’s not Google’s software, since it’s an open-source project that was developed by a coalition of companies. But Google initiated the project and is shepherding it along.
It’s also managing the online store distributing applications to the platform. So people won’t be off base if they think of the phone as “powered by Google.”
On the hardware side, Google’s in between the approaches of Microsoft and Apple.
Microsoft may build reference designs of a device, as a way to prove the concept and help manufacturers build their own versions. These models are tools used in-house, and aren’t sold to the public.
Apple builds its own hardware and software, micromanaging the process to be sure they work together. It doesn’t want anyone building devices using its operating system, so there are no reference designs, only internal prototypes.
Google micromanaged the G1’s development. It was extremely specific about the hardware to be used in the phone, and its engineers camped out at T-Mobile in Bellevue to make sure everything worked well together.
The phone has “the best of everything that Google thought it needed to support at an operating-system level — drivers, everything to handle a chip set, processor, all that,” said Leslie Grandy, T-Mobile’s vice president of product development.
Grandy characterized Google’s role in hardware specifications as “very proactive.”
“It played a different role … than it will play going forward,” she said.
Google also hosted a team from hardware maker HTC’s Bellevue office for a year while they sorted out the details.
Executives of HTC, a Taiwanese company, didn’t get into specifics about how much Google’s brand will appear on their next phones, but they see the G1 as a big step forward in their effort to raise the stature of their company as a cutting-edge developer of Internet-enabled mobile devices.
Chief Executive Peter Chou said there’s a huge opportunity for phone carriers as people add mobile Internet services to their voice plans. He expects smartphones will grow from around 15 percent of the mobile-phone market now to 40 or 50 percent within five years, reaching sales of 500 million to 700 million units.
“That’s why mobile operators are very committed to push this area and we are very excited about it,” Chou said.
The share of that business taken by Google depends on how the G1 fares. Its final testing begins, in classic Google style, when the world starts putting the G1 through its paces Oct. 22.
After the software is proved — not only through technical testing, but through customers’ inevitable embrace of the “Google phone” — it will be easier for Google to persuade phone companies to use the platform in more products.
Prominent Google branding is just one way the G1 is a unique device.
Underpinning the G1 is a unique three-way licensing and profit-sharing deal between Google, T-Mobile and HTC that won’t be used again, Grandy said.
She declined to provide specifics about this “business architecture,” other than to say “it is a three-way relationship unlike any other we have.”
After the G1 is released and the software’s done, the economics change, because the software’s open source, she said. “Google won’t be in the equation the next time in that regard.”
Maybe G1 also stands for guinea pig, round one.
But for $179 and the opportunity to try out a Google-powered phone, who cares? Sign me up.
Brier Dudley’s column regularly appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.