Here’s a detailed post (widely picked up) by Simeon Simeonov about Google developing a mobile phone. Here’s the reported strategy:
Apparently, Google is planning to build distribution relationships with multiple carriers by allowing them to minimize subscription and marketing costs. In other words, Google will market the phone online and carriers will fulfill. How fast can you say dumb pipe?
On one hand this makes sense; it would give Google a branded device and allow it to “own” the user in a way it now cannot with third-party devices despite all its OEM relationships. There might be some non-advertising revenue (device cost, shared subscription revenue?) but really this is still mostly about ads.
On the other hand, this might not make sense in terms of costs to Google and potential risk. Unless it was working with multiple carriers Google’s phone would face the same challenges as Apple’s iPhone (works only with AT&T) in terms of adoption. Also the carrier resistance to Google might stiffen unless there was a very appealing financial arrangement. As Simeonov says above, this is their “dumb pipe” fear realized.
Google’s vision of the mobile future is probably of AdWords for mobile devices against a backdrop of mobile search. Depending on the mobile user experience and how it evolves, that future may or may not happen (or may be much farther off than they would like). Text is where the volume of usage is right now. And voice/ad-supported directory assistance is a lot easier to navigate than mobile local search for non smartphones and it already has a huge installed base.
Still a branded Google phone is a very intriguing proposition and we’ll see if it comes to pass. The post has enough detail to make some version of what he’s saying probably accurate. We’ll see what emerges.