Google Phone: Another Nail in the Windows Mobile Coffin?

The proposed Google Phone would give Google more control of design and marketing, and a leg up on struggling Windows Mobile.

Google's announcement this weekend that it is working on a Google-branded phone is more bad news for Windows Mobile.

But before we slap the label "Windows Mobile Killer" or, God forbid, "iPhone Killer" on this alleged Google phone, let's take a step back. Based on what Google has written on company blogs and based on a photo posted on Twitter and other sites, the Google phone is no different than other Android-based phones from handset makers like Motorola, Samsung and HTC.

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Code-named "Nexus One", the phone appears to be a version of the HTC Passion phone, yet Google is marketing it as a "Google Phone" and, according to The Wall Street Journal, will sell it directly to customers on the Google Web site as soon as early 2010. Based on preliminary photos, Nexus One is a touchcreen device with no physical keyboard and a design similar to the iPhone, although the Nexus One screen is reportedly five millimeters longer.

What's unique is how Google is planning to sell these phones and put its powerful brand at the forefront, something Microsoft is not doing with Windows Mobile, much to its own peril. Google reportedly plans to sell the Nexus One as an unlocked phone that will not be subsidized by a wireless carrier. This will definitely raise the upfront price of these "Google phones." But in exchange, owners will have lower monthly payments and more choice of wireless carriers. But are smartphone buyers willing to pay more upfront? Can Google change the way U.S. consumers buy cellphones? It's a big gamble.

Journalists who cover the mobile industry, including my colleague Al Sacco, are standing firm that the Nexus One is much ado about nothing. Sure, it is being trumpeted on Google's blog and getting some press as the Google phone, but Nexus One is still an HTC smartphone running Android. There are other HTC phones like it.

However, Google had more of a hand in the design of Nexus One than other Android phones. HTC is apparently making the device based on Google-provided specifications. Google's desire to be more involved in the design, marketing and selling of Android-based smartphones is evident with Nexus One and does not bode well for Microsoft, which is already struggling to make progress in a very crowded mobile market.

Google may never be the mobile software/hardware hybrid that Apple and RIM are (unless it buys a hardware company like Palm or HTC, which is not likely to happen). But it's clear now that Google does not want to be known as a company that merely provides a mobile OS.

Perhaps Google's Nexus One strategy will light a fire under Microsoft to improve Windows Mobile in 2010 by providing more mobile apps than Android, sharper marketing, more integrated hardware partnerships, or possibly by branding a Microsoft phone of its own.

The Nexus One is just a starting point for Google. It may end up being all sizzle and no steak, but Google is showing its mettle here. It wants to produce its own phones; it wants more control of its mobile destiny.

In comparison, Windows Mobile seems destined to keep dwindling.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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