Is Google's New Phone Sparking a Mobile War?
Google in early January released Nexus One, a voice-enabled smartphone that runs on Google’s own Android platform. The launch of the Nexus One phone—a direct competitor to Apple’s iPhone—has led many to speculate that Google and Apple are starting to wage a turf war that will play out on the mobile battlefield, with voice applications caught in the middle.
Google called its new Nexus One phone a “superphone,” and heralded the voice-enabled features—which basically allow users to speak anything they can type—that are native to the phone. Among the features are:
- a voice-enabled keyboard for all text fields that allows users to speak a text message, email, instant message, or update to Twitter or Facebook;
- voice command and control;
- the ability to search Google, call contacts, or get driving directions by speaking into the phone;
- the ability to get transcribed voicemail with Google Voice integration; and
- text-to-speech output for location-based and mobile search applications.
That Nexus One has speech technologies built in already sets Google apart from Apple, which caught a lot of flak in early 2007 when its iPhone debuted without a native voice interface.
But for many industry insiders, the real battle between Google and Apple started a few months after the iPhone’s debut. That was when Google announced it was developing its own Android mobile phone operating system.
Tensions mounted again last summer when Apple denied two Google applications, including Google Voice, for sale to iPhone users via its App Store. Google Voice lets users manage calls and voicemail messages with features like voicemail-to-text transcription.
But rather than signaling the start of a war, it is more likely that the move to block Google Voice was to protect AT&T, Apple’s carrier for the iPhone. The Web calling feature in Google Voice would have threatened AT&T’s per-minute plans.
Google added a shot of its own late last year by acquiring AdMob, a mobile advertising developer, snatching it out from under Apple’s nose in a last-minute bid that topped Apple’s. Now Apple is reportedly considering dumping Google as the default search engine on its iPhone, and replacing it with Microsoft’s Bing.
Steve Hilton, head of enterprise research at Analysis Mason, says the conflict stems from the two very different philosophies that govern Apple and Google. Apple clings to a “we-do-everything” mentality, he says, pointing out that both the iPhone and its operating system are made exclusively by Apple, which also maintains tight controls over which applications can be loaded onto the iPhone. Google, on the other hand, is the standard-bearer for an open architecture in which any application should work on any platform or device. Google also doesn’t make hardware—the Nexus One, for example, is manufactured by HTC.
And it’s apparently just the first of many new products that Google has in the pipeline. Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google, wrote in a blog posting on Google’s Web site that the Nexus One is “the first in what we expect to be a series of products we will bring to market with our operator and hardware partners and sell through our online store.”
Nexus One is initially available from the Google Web store in the United States without service for $529, or starting at $179 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile USA. In the near future, Verizon Wireless in the U.S. and Vodafone in Europe plan to offer services to customers in their respective geographies. Google will initially take orders from consumers in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
But Hilton is reluctant to say Google and Apple are in an all-out war. “I can see how some people could see an Apple versus Google war, but I still see an old guard versus new guard, where Apple and Google are the new guard and Nokia, Palm, Sony Ericsson, and Motorola are the old,” Hilton says. “If [Apple and Google] are going at one another, their battle is tangential to what they’ve done. Two years ago, you did not have the kinds of handsets that you have now. They’ve both broken ground in the device space.”