Persistent rumors have Google scheduling an event for Tuesday to launch its new Nexus One mobile phone. Engadget was even fortunate enough to procure one ahead of the launch. Whenever Google makes it official, it's clearly an impressive looking device, but ever since I heard about Google manufacturing its own phone, a thought has been nagging at me: Why do it and what are the company's goals in creating its own branded phone?
Why Throw Your Partners Under the Bus?
When Google announced a mobile phone operating system, it made sense to me. It could create a portal of sorts through the mobile hardware to Google services where it could feast on the ad riches associated with that mobile traffic. Then Google created tools for developers and it made the OS open source and free, really free, no strings attached whatsoever. The ecosystem has flourished and Motorola recently released the Droid, a phone with a lot of buzz, that appears to be the best Android-powered phone yet.
As 2009 closed, there were predictions of a big market share boost for 2010. In other words, the plan is working. The system is developing, even flourishing.
As I've written many times, Google's core business is search and Ad Sense. Almost everything the company does comes back to that, so why would it get into the hardware business and essentially sabotage its own business model by competing against those same developers?
What Are They Thinking?
Don't get me wrong. The phone looks nice, maybe a little too nice. It's sleek and has enough bells and whistles to please any phone geek, but the fact that it's so nice puzzles me even more; as though Google really wants to compete with the development system it has worked so hard to build. It reminds me of Microsoft's plan to open up retail stores in Malls near Apple stores. The problem with this approach is that there are other retail partners like Best Buy selling Microsoft products in that same retail zone, and by opening a store there, Microsoft is essentially competing with its own distribution system.
Google appears to be doing the same thing by creating a phone that, at least according to Engadget's initial reports, improves on the Droid. Why screw Verizon, Motorola and other partners by putting your brand on the outside of a phone when what really should matter to Google is the OS that runs the phone?
I've thought a lot about it, and I still don't see a good reason for producing this phone. Google could have sat back, watched its Android market share explode and reaped the rewards of its strategy.
Even if the Google phone is wildly successful, and it's not clear it will be (or at least enough), I don't see it making up for the revenue it will likely lose by essentially competing with itself and in the process alienating its partners. And I'm still left wondering why Google would do that.