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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 5, 2010 at 10:07 AM

Google launches “superphone,” Web store (updated w/ video)

During a press conference today at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters the company, as expected, unveiled the “Nexus One” — a Google-branded device it calls a “superphone.”

The phone is based on the same software as the Motorola “Droid” phone sold by Verizon but has a few additional features, such as a mobile version of the Google Earth mapping service and more 3-D graphics.

It’s the first of multiple premium phones that Google plans to sell directly by the search company through a new online storefront — Google.com/phone — which will also be a hub to activate the phones. Buyers will need to have a Google account, such as a Gmail e-mail account, to make a purchase.

“The Nexus One belongs in an emerging category of devices we call superphones,” said Google’s Mario Queiroz, vice president of product development.

Asked if it’s an “iPhone killer,” Google’s Andy Rubin deflected the question.

“I think choice is a really good thing,” said Rubin, vice president of engineering and former chief executive of Danger, a handset maker acquired by Microsoft.

Rubin said Google isn’t trying to make money off the phones as much as advertising it will deliver — it’s comparable in power to laptops of a few years ago, and Google’s business is selling ads viewed on computers.

“This is just the next front of our core business,” Rubin said.

Google also sees the phone as “the best possible Google experience,” he said.

“When you hit Google.com you’re a Google customer,” Rubin said. “If you want the best possible experience you’ll come to the store, grab the device and the advertising model takes off.”

Opening a Web storefront could signal broader plans for Google to enter dircect retailing but executives wouldn’t discuss plans beyond selling cutting-edge Android phones on the site.

“We’re not going to comment more specifically than this particular point,” Queiroz said, looking a little uncomfortable with the question on the Webcast.

Before showing the phone Queiroz talked up its partnerships with mobile phone companies — companies it’s now competing with by selling the Nexus One directly to consumers. We’ll see if that mollifies the companies, which are now selling 20 of their own Android phones on 59 networks in 48 countries.

Motorola Chief Executive Sanjay Jha demurred when asked at the press conference if the Nexus One would cannibalize sales of his company’s Droid phone, and whether partners should feel threatened by Google’s entering the phone sales business.

“I don’t see it as a threat,” he said. “I think this is potentially an expansion of the market place.”

HTC Chief Executive Peter Chou — whose company builds the phones for Google — came on stage to discuss his company’s role, then Google engineer Eric Tseng began the demo and explanation of the specs.

Features include:

— 3.7 inch AMOLED display.

— Multicolor LED trackball that flashes in different colors, such as blue to signal that you can link with a Bluetooth headset.

— 1 gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm.

— Light and proximity sensors.

— 11.5 mm thick, comparable to a pencil

— 130 grams (4.6 oz.), similar in weight to a pocketknife.

— 5 megapixel still and video camera that uploads images to Google’s Picasa service in the background and to YouTube with one click.

— Stereo Bluetooth audio

— New active noise suppression. Using two mics, it does noise cancellation when you’re making calls in a noisy environment.

Tseng said the device is built on Android version 2.1, the same version that’s running Motorola’s Droid phone from Verizon Wireless. It has the same applications, including Google Maps’ navigation service.

New features include the addition of five homescreen panels for people to customize the phone with additional application icons, or widgets.

One application new to the Nexus One is “live wallpaper,” a videolike dynamic background image that moves and can be manipulated by touching the screen. This is very similar to the 3-D animations HTC began offering on the Android Hero phone sold by Sprint.

Tseng said the phone’s powerful processor enables 3-D graphics such as a zooming effect when launching applications and a photo gallery that can be manipulated with finger swipe gestures or by tilting the phone.

The device also accepts voice controls, including speech-to-text conversion that can be used, for instance, to compose e-mails by speaking into the device. It worked, after a few seconds pause, in Tseng’s demo.

Also demonstrated was the new Google Earth service for the Android platform.

Rubin said the Nexus One software will be open-sourced and available to other devices within a few days. Not many phones are yet using the Snapdragon platform, though, so the 3-D graphics could be a challenge until such powerful processors are more widely available.

Previously leaked documents said the device will sell for $180 with a two-year T-Mobile USA contract or $530 for a contract-free model. The Google store now has it offered for $179 with T-Mobile service and $529 without; the service plan costs $80 per month and comes with 500 minutes of talk time and unlimited data and messaging.

Google said the phone will also be supported by Verizon Wireless in the U.S. and Vodafone in Europe in the spring.

Here’s a photo of Queiroz holding up the phone, taken by pool photographer Robert Galbraith/AFP/Getty Images:

Was2789429.JPG

“We’re psyched,” Queiroz said, before showing a video ad for the Nexus One:

Comments | Topics: Android, Google, iphone

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