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Industry buzzing with rumors of Google-branded phone

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Fanning speculation that it could unveil a self-branded smart phone to challenge the way mobile devices have been sold, Google has scheduled an announcement for next week about its Android mobile platform.

It was unclear to industry observers whether the event scheduled for Tuesday will involve details of Google's plans to market a heavily rumored "Google phone" — an HTC-built prototype dubbed the Nexus One was distributed to Google employees recently — or will be about a bundle of software services or applications built around the company's Android operating system.

"There has been a lot of back and forth about the latest Android phone, so I imagine it could be something that has to do with that," said William Stofega, an analyst with research firm IDC.

Google was coy about its intentions in a terse invitation it released to media organizations this week.

"With the launch of the first Android-powered device just over a year ago, we've seen how a powerful, open platform can spur mobile product innovation," the company said. "And this is just the beginning of what's possible."

Indeed, at a media event Dec. 7, Google executives hinted at new smart phone services that would be unveiled in the first quarter of 2010, including an early version of linguistic translation services that would allow a smart phone to translate between a wide variety of languages.

Google is well on the way to offering the capability for people to use their smart phones as a kind of "U.N. interpreter for everyone," Matt Waddell, a member of Google's mobile team, said recently.

"You can literally imagine a scenario where you speak Japanese and I speak English, but I can place a phone between us and it can take care of all of the translation work," Waddell said.

"We are on a trajectory to deliver that kind of experience," he said, although its full realization is probably several years down the road.

But the timing of the announcement, just before Thursday's opening of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, seemed calculated to steal some thunder from what bills itself as the world's largest consumer technology trade show.

"The real question is: What is Google planning to do? I have a whole litany of questions," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices with Current Analysis, who was looking to change his travel plans for a stopover in Silicon Valley to catch the announcement.

"Google is an enormous consumer brand, and they have made a lot of progress recently in the mobile space, and the question that comes up is, are they going to build on this momentum, or are they going to shoot themselves in the foot by doing something that competes with their partners?"

Greengart was referring to media speculation that Google as early as January would offer an "unlocked" smart phone, meaning consumers could pick their wireless carrier, but might have to pay much more up front for the device — a plan that could cause friction with phone manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung with licenses to produce devices that run Google's software.

Google's investment in Android — coupled with Microsoft's missteps in developing its Windows Mobile operating system — has helped undermine Microsoft's position in the smart phone market. In the past year, Motorola has ditched Windows Mobile entirely for Android, and other phone manufacturers are making similar moves.

Industry buzzing with rumors of Google-branded phone 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 9:15pm]
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