The Real Attraction of the Google Phone Is The Brand, Not The Functionality

goog.gifThe WSJ’s been on the trail of the long-rumored Googlephone, posting a story last night saying that an announcement the company’s mobile plans is coming within a few weeks. They followed that up with another saying that the company is in talks with Verizon Wireless about the operator carrying handsets running the Google mobile OS.

The first story talks about how Google’s goal is “to make it easier for cellphone customers to get a variety of extra services on their phones”, in particular making handsets more open to third-party development, a move the WSJ calls “radical”. That would seem to be at odds with Verizon’s general strategy, which keeps it the most closed of all the US operators. Add in Google’s sparring with Verizon over open-access networks and net neutrality, and the plot thickens. So is Verizon about to make a serious about-face and throw its network and handsets open? Unlikely.

There’s one reason Verizon’s interested in Googlephones, and it’s not because Google will offer lower software licensing fees, as the WSJ posits. It’s because of the Google brand. Having missed out on the iPhone (apparently because it wouldn’t give up the ability to sell content and services through its own portal), Verizon’s gone to great lengths to respond to it. Its CMO even said one of its new handsets — which looks like an iPhone knockoff, right down to the UI — “will kill the iPhone”.

Verizon could care less about what’s inside a Googlephone, just as long as it can market handsets, with its service, under the Google brand. Any possible advertising revenue split might be an ancillary benefit, but the bottom line for Verizon (and other operators) is that they want to use the Google brand to grab more subscribers, since it’s one that can stand up to Apple’s. Google will be happy to play ball, since the more of its devices it gets out there, the more power it gets in the market. The brand is what’s key here, not the OS, since it’s doubtful that Googlephones will be any more “open” than existing unlocked devices with open platforms like S60 or Windows Mobile, or perhaps even featurephones with Java.

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