I've been saying it for ages: There is no Googlephone. Last week, at the Web 2.0 Summit conference, I finally got confirmation that Google's not getting into the cell-phone business. How? I overheard a rep from Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, chatting up a vice president at Google. Now, I know this particular executive is utterly guileless; she wouldn't lie. And when the Foxconn rep tried to pitch her on getting a contract to make the Googlephone, she replied, flat-out, "We're not making a Googlephone."
I realize this news is going to traumatize a lot of gadget nerds, especially Gizmodo editor Brian Lam, with whom I've had a running back-and-forth on the Googlephone. I'll save Lam the trouble of writing one of his "Yes, but ..." retorts. Let me nutshell it for you: It's not about the hardware, it's about the operating system and customization and integration with Google's apps. Nonsense.
Here's what it's really about: Fear. Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin got spooked in early 2006 when they heard that Microsoft was putting its Windows Mobile operating system on 90-plus smartphones that year. So they threw a rumored $100 million in Google shareholders' hard-earned cash on a crash Googlephone project.
Cooler heads have prevailed, though. Yes, it's smart for Google to optimize its services for cell phones. But they don't need hardware or software to do that. Nor do they need exclusive deals with carriers, though those might help a bit with distribution.
The Googlephone, however, has worked like a charm in two ways: First a threat. The Googlephone was a useful fiction, a way to scare carriers and phonemakers into cooperating with Google, and spook Microsoft into cutting its licensing fees for Windows Mobile. To perpetuate that fiction, Google apparently went as far as ordering up some prototypes from HTC — an elaborate Potemkin village of gadgets.
Second, the Googlephone functioned as a fantasy. A very useful fantasy. Like the Apple rumor mill, the cottage industry in Googlephone speculation served as free, crowdsourced market research. Gizmodo, Engadget, and the rest spun countless feature wishlists out of Larry and Sergey's phone folly.
Too bad it was all for naught. There is no Googlephone, folks. Move along.
And for those gadget-heads who were taken in by all of this, and are now disappointed, here's a thought: If you think you feel crushed, how do you think Microsoft and the wireless industry will feel once they figure out that Google has played them for the fool?