[Update: Could the Google phone be a data only, VoIP-driven device, rather than a standard phone? TechCrunch has a source that thinks so, and suggests that AT&T is already bidding to provide data services. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.) You can already port your phone number to Google Voice, after all. So you'd just make your calls over the data service instead.]
The guys at TechCrunch have popped an exciting post this morning: Multiple sources have suggested to them that the long-rumored Googlephone is for real and coming soon. Sadly, they miss the really exciting implications of this.
TechCrunch's leads come from their sources and are unconfirmed, but they're certain of a couple of things: Google is for sure building its own-branded smartphone that it will sell directly through the usual retail channels. It was to have hit the stores before the holidays, but setbacks have pushed the launch into early 2010. The hardware will, of course, be made by someone else (a "major phone manufacturer") and it will most definitely be Google branded unlike, say, the T-Mobile G1.
And that's about it for firm information. It's not much. More speculatively TC notes that they think the maker will be LG or Samsung, but with a bias toward LG as many elements inside the iPhone are made by Samsung. There's also going to be a "big advertising push" starting sometime around January to push the device into the public's consciousness. No surprises there.
But did you spot the yawning gap in this story? If its true—if multiple inside sources have confirmed that Google really does have its own Android phone on the way—then it's enormous news. Think about it: All the excitement that surrounded the Droid's recent launch would be eclipsed, and every other Android phone would seem less relevant. The Palm Pre would take a point-blank shot to the head. If Google is, as TC thinks, paying even more hands-on attention to how the phone works than they allegedly did with Moto's Droid, it'll be the most pure, unadulterated Android experience out there—something akin to the marriage between hardware and OS that makes the iPhone tick. With Google's giant name behind their own phone, and Android OS garnering much positive attention from users and developers, the phone could have a similar impact on the smartphone market as the iPhone did.
There's a single thought holding me back from saying it'll be a real iPhone challenger though, and it's important: Design. Google's design is naff, unappealing, uninspired across nearly every one of their online products. If they display the same prowess in designing the Googlephone, it'll flop, because everyone will compare it to the beauty of the iPhone.
Still, this is still all a rumor—if a high-profile one, as TechCrunch has launched itself headlong, if uninformatively, at it. What's your take on the news? Is it true, or even likely do you think? Is it going to be a serious contender for the iPhone's crown, or just an also-ran (like Microsoft's Zune versus the iPod)? Over to you in the comments.