Monday, October 8, 2007

A Google phone. So why the fuss ?

Tracking tech companies these days is like tracking movie stars and other celebrity. Will she marry that handsome dude she has been seeing of late ? Does that mean she has fallen out with that gorgeous hunk she was seen with last week at the Ritz ? And by the way, any truth to reports that she had had a silicone implant ?

There is abundant speculation in the mainline newspapers, trade publications and blogs that Google may be bringing out a mobile phone. Surely Google Inc. is loving it, as did Apple Inc. when all that speculative frenzy built up around the iPhone. Folks save them a lot of advertising bucks by doing their work for them. We had pre-announced the iPhone based on crumbs Apple fed us, and we are now trying to pre-announce the Google phone – whether it is a real phone or only software.

If Google brings to market a phone, that is nice. It is also nice every time Nokia Corp. or Motorola Inc. bring out a phone with some new feature. But it is nothing to get into a paroxysm about.

Yes, the PC changed the world in many ways, but another mobile phone will not.

In fact the mobile service providers will ensure that the phone does not go very far. Mobile service providers want control, and they will want control over everything that goes into that phone. Apple wrested control from AT&T by offering it exclusivity, but, despite the popularity of the product, remember it runs on only one network in the US.

The only way Google can play this game to its advantage is to buy wireless spectrum, and allocate it to buddies who will invest in mobile communications companies. There are reports they are going to do just that. But getting into the service provider business to make sure its content and applications is on the phone, is akin to starting up a PC company that ships only Google apps. Google does not seem to know what to do with its cash just now.

I am more inclined to take the view that Google like Microsoft Corp. may emerge as a provider of software and reference design to mobile phone makers like Nokia and Motorola. Miguel Helft at the New York Times is one of a number who are coming around to this view.

Microsoft hasn’t been very successful in this market because cell phone makers have always been wary of large companies invading their turf. That is the reason Nokia has invested in Symbian, a developer of software for phones. Google too will be seen as an upstart by entrenched phone makers.

Besides, if folks like Nokia use the Google software, they will still be required to tweak it for the operator, who may decide he wants Yahoo’s application, rather than Google’s.

But all this hasn’t answered my question. Why is everyone going ga-ga over Google’s new phone/phone software ? Are we so starved for excitement ?

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