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According to well-respected tech pundit Gary Krakow, Google's [NASDAQ: GOOG] smartphone operating system, dubbed Android, will be ready to launch via several manufacturers by the end of 2008. But what's more interesting is a second assertion that he makes, based on an "unnamed source": that Google itself will release a branded handset, but that it's been delayed until well into next year.

This is puzzling news not least because Google has never made any forays into hardware production before. But it's an old rumor, one that most of the technorati presumed dead months ago; once Android was formally announced, Google stated its intentions to work with the Open Handset Alliance, presumably by building an operating system that everyone else could use on their hardware. There was some talk of a Samsung [SEO: 005930] Google-branded device slated for September, but there haven't been any more rumors to corroborate that claim.

While Google may not be in the hardware business now, that doesn't mean that the jump would be unprecedented (or even ill-advised) for a major software company: Microsoft's [NASDAQ: MSFT] XBox was that company's first major foray into hardware production, and they're not doing half bad at all.