Today the phone is seeing rapid adoption by handheld makers, Motorola has redesigned its entire line of phones around Android. HTC has a couple of compelling options using its take of Android using the "Sense UI" and talk of dozens of other Android based phones to debut next year hint at 2010 being the year that the Android Tsunami storm surge hits the shores of the wireless market. In this time of what will be intense competition , why would Google still decide to create it's own branded hardware for a wireless device. Here are the reason I think they are doing it.
Google has always embraced open standards and approaches to their software and services, the recent bundling of free turn by turn GPS navigation with Google Maps with the Motorola Droid hints at the open view that they are taking. Their whole thing is providing a service and then finding a way to monetize it unobtrusively with ads. We saw this with search, we are watching it develop with mapping (Google Earth), we have seen it with GMail and now we are going to see it in the handheld space. That said, they probably look at the existing market of closed down , silo'd devices in the wireless space with disdain. I know I do, despite being involved in cutting edge developments for the last 10 years I went without a cell phone because as a purist, I felt none of them gave me the freedom I am looking for, basically what I want is a laptop in a touch screen handheld device that allows me to do all the things a laptop can do plus all the things that a smart phone can do, that means REAL web browsing (not that WAP crap I coded feeds for back in 2000) , it means real support for applications running on the device and for RIA's fed through the browser, it means my choice of media playing capability (video, audio, image) and control over the available hard drive space on the device to do with as I please. It means ability to connect the device to a computer and transfer files to and from it without anything more special than a mini usb adapter. It means a user serviceable access to battery and removable memory. It means a customizable interface that I can configure just as I do my XP desktop and all of this spiced up with what we've come to expect in a smart phone, multi-touch screen,accelerometers, GPS, bluetooth, wifi and cell radios for all the major 3G network technologies so that I can tie the phone to any provider I want without being locked in to over priced service options.
I think Google's phone is meant to be a shot across the bow of all the companies that have so far made Android phones to show them just how open the OS can really be when mated to hardware that harnesses that openness, almost to shame them into really unleashing the OS (though to be honest the Motorola Droid pretty much achieves 90% of what I want in a handheld today...it will be interesting to see if the Google phone can top over that 90%)
It's funny how companies feel that the user is satisfied with the closed off artificial environments and differentiations they create, they didn't learn from the pc example that not all people want those limitations, power users want total control and there still isn't a smart phone that provides that level of control...Google may put the pressure on them to start getting serious. I'd really be happy if Google is able to get a deal with a carrier that doesn't differentiate between voice and data , that's a canard that any hardware engineer knows is yet another artificial boundary created by the telecoms to have reason to bundle services in ways that people don't want and over charge them for things they don't want. It is a vestige from an inefficient time when voice and data were separate beasts, that time is long gone but the telecoms are still charging as if it is not. It should be one plan over which I can do what I want, a la cart just like my monthly payment for one fiber line to my house via FiOS that feeds my voice, tv and internet needs, after all on the back end it is all "data" anyway it is time for the savings the telecoms got in consolidating on fiber years ago to finally reflect in lower prices of service (which hasn't really happened).
Novel idea, imagine a phone that is open as mentioned above and ad supported for every feature with a low monthly access fee, I'd bet the phones would make enough money on ads to pay for the data services. Just as the infrastructure of a web site that uses ads as it's primary revenue stream amortizes the costs of running the necessary servers by the revenue derived from the ads. If you see the phone itself as "infrastructure" and you enable it to deliver ads , the revenue derived from millions of users of the various services built on it maybe able to pay for the entire infrastructure chain (phones, bandwidth for plans, touch points to the net) this might be what Google is aiming for and the best way to move the industry to it is to do it and show that it works. If they succeed I think they would have come close to the level of audacity they showed when they came out of no where thinking they could do search better than the giants of the internet back in 1999, they were right then and if they are thinking along the lines of what is described above I am sure they'll be right again...10 years later. In any event, the coming year will be filled with new Android products and lots of competition for user share that should bring prices down, the Google Phone in the mix will likely help put more downward pressure on those prices and that for the consumer is a very good thing.