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The Googlephone's Biggest Limitation: Price?

nexus oneBoom! The news is out: People are certain the Googlephone has been pseudo-revealed, and will be on-sale in January. Many commenters are going gaga over the idea. But as details emerge, I'm worried about one huge thing: Price.

When real data began to bubble up about the Googlephone about a month ago, I was actually quite excited: The idea that Google was taking its very hands-on experience in crafting the PR-darling Motorola Droid phone to the next level with its own highly-polished effort was a really promising one. If Google played it right, moving past the company's own terrible design habits, and crafting a high-quality Android phone that out-performed existing units because of a synergistic marriage of software and hardware, it'd be a great device.

Things are different now. We have FCC registrations, indicating it really is on its way. We have photos of the beast, photos taken with the beast, and news that Google's given units to Google staff all around the world. And we're beginning to know some technical data.

As you might've expected, it's being built by HTC—not a surprise, given the big Google-HTC collaboration on the first Googlephone, the T-Mobile G1. Many are saying there are strong links with the much-admired HD2. We know from the FCC data it's got quad-band GSM in there, making it suitable for the global market, and T-Mobile (and possibly AT&T) compatibility in the U.S. Elsewhere in its guts things get more amazing: It'll apparently be powered by a Snapdragon CPU, making it a damn fast mobile computer. It's got a 5-megapixel camera (which is definitely not "freakishly large" as TechCrunch had rumored). And it's got an OLED screen. Finally, it's going to be sold unlocked, and via Google itself, not through particular carriers.

nexus one

And right there is the potential bust to the promising boom of the Googlephone. Because with a Snapdragon chip aboard and a large OLED gleaming away on its face, this phone is not going to be cheap. Not a jot. The iPhone costs somewhere north of $500, but you don't see that in the U.S. because of the carrier-subsidy system you guys rely on (here in Europe, where you can buy pay-as-you-go iPhones, the real unit price is very much exposed to us.) Waving aside any discussion of the fabled Apple Tax, the iPhone is expensive. And it doesn't even have particularly whizzy components inside. The Googlephone is likely to sell for more.

Which is why the Googlephone may stumble. If Google's selling it unlocked, then there's no carrier subsidy to lower its consumer-facing price, and Google's not going to have much incentive to sell it on a not-for-profit basis, especially considering it'll torpedo sales of other Android phones made by the company's existing partners (which is another business process issue all of its own.) So it'll be pretty expensive, like some of Nokia's high-end smartphone efforts have been...and they didn't really sell well either. Plus, once you've bought the phone, how are you going to connect it up? You're going to have to buy a contract SIM card from one carrier or another—one that includes a large monthly data allocation if you're to get the most out of owning it—and that's going to cost pretty much the same (or more) as if you'd bought a phone via AT&T or T-Mobile themselves. The game-changing capabilities of the Gphone begin to look a bit limited don't they?


Plus, there's the issue of its apparently official name. If this is a mobile aimed at the geeks of the smartphone world, they'll be worried: That whole Nexus One thing will get their sci-fi-loving spines a-tingling. Thanks to Blade Runner, you see? Generation six of this device is going to be a bitch.

Main image via Engadget

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  • Varun Arora

    What I'm really interested in is the strategic INTENT behind the device. Mobile phones are NOT Google's business. What is it that they're trying to prove with this phone? Is there something in the OS that other manufacturers did not implement and that Google felt needed to be shown to reluctant manufacturers to prove a point? Is there something in the UI (an area that Google likes to THINK they're strong on - they're certainly strong on simplification, which, it could be argued, is the point of a good UI, but hopeless on evoking desirability / passion which is other half of UI design).

    Without being aware of the intent, I'm inclined to agree with Kit: this device won't sell in volumes significant enough to give Google the dominance they're accustomed to in other businesses they choose to compete in.

    - Varun

  • MaineBob OConnor

    It would be great if this phone also had a CDMA chip so it could ALSO be used on the Verizon network. In my area, Verizon owns the GSM towers (Unicel buyout), the Verizon signal is better here.

  • John Vasko

    That price is high, especially with the U.S. subsidy model that offers most smart phones for around $200.