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Google and gPhone

by Sunil J

Continuing on my previous post on the gPhone, there are rumors that gPhone will cost around $100 and that it will be available in the first quarter of 2008. It is expected to be announced sometime next week or maybe the following week. An HTC employee is supposed to have leaked that the company is talking with Google and has around 20 prototypes that might become the gPhone. Maybe one, maybe quite a few. Bloggers have figured out that Google had bought a company that was developing a Linux based mobile operating system and hence it is likely that Google had purchased the company with the objective of creating a mobile operating system well integrated with its products. It is also said that the gPhone will have Wi-Fi capabilities, will be 3G enabled and will have a 3-inch display. It is unknown what kind of input system Google is planning to provide. The general opinion seems to be that Google is having a solid idea on the hardware capabilities.

While the price of $100 seems to be too low considering the features that are rumored to be built into the phone, there is an opinion that Google is planning to sell the phone at a loss to get huge customer base to which it can serve its advertisements. Someone had also mentioned that a Google executive had once remarked that mobile phones should be free, and it seems he had later said, while mobile phone may never be free, it should be sold at a subsidized rate. This seems to fit in well with Google’s business strategy as almost all their services seems to be free, but supported by advertisement. The recent acquisition of feedburner had resulted in users getting the pro features free. If there is a company that will make a revolutionary change in the world, then it is likely to be Google.

However, all these are speculations, the only concrete leak so far has been that it is expected to be announced sometime after Labor Day, and that HTC is one of the handset manufacturers who are talking with Google. Rediff.com had reported that Google is having some talks with a regional service provider in India. Overall, everything seems to fit together very well. The public has certain expectation from Google, and it is highly unlikely that Google will do something very uncharacteristic.

I had earlier noted that Google Maps is being updated at an unprecedented rate. Well in line with Google’s opinion that developing countries like India and China will be driving the market in the future, they have mapped both these regions extensively. Small cities in India have been mapped with street names, hospitals, schools, colleges, businesses, places of worship, tourist attraction and in some cases one ways. It is evident that gPhone will be GPS enabled and it will cover virtually the whole world. Even if some countries like Pakistan is not mapped very well, it might be because Google wants to reach those regions where the handset purchase will help it reach the breakeven point at the shortest time. You can expect Google to map the rest of the world in the near future, and I would not expect Google to turn a blind eye towards one region. It might not be long before you will have Google Street view on every public road.

The report that Google is engaged in talk with Airtel might be good news or bad news. Airtel is a major player in India and with the services that Google can provide it might get a monopoly. Its major rivals are the state owned BSNL and CDMA service provider Reliance and GSM service provider Hutch which is owned by Vodaphone. Is Google going to provide the same level of service with other operators? Considering the bitter competition that exist between these players, a one sided agreement would send the others scrambling towards politicians to get the upper hand. The experience that Coca-Cola had in the 80s is not too old to forget and I am sure that the think tanks in Google would have considered the matter. It is quite possible that Google will provide its service to every operator in the country. It is also possible that Google might be negotiating purchase of bandwidth from Airtel instead of a partnership. Airtel and Reliance have the most coverage, but Reliance provides CDMA based service. As Airtel is a GSM operator and as it has a pan India coverage with GPRS, it is possible, that Google wants Airtel to open up GPRS to Google services on any operator network. Is it possible to access GPRS using Airtel while using connection from another service provider?

Whatever the scenario, it is an undeniable fact that Google is entering the mobile field in a big way. All remains to be seen is how and when.

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