The Cutting Room: Google ups the ante

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So last month the much hyped ‘Google phone’, or the ‘T-Mobile G1 with Google’ as it is referred to by its various makers, was unveiled to much whooping, back-slapping and premeditated celebration.

It could almost have been an Apple launch.

Nevertheless, it is hard to see just what kind of positive impact the device, will have on the T-Mobile brand, which has an early exclusive on the Android hype.

The cliché runs ‘beauty is on the inside’ and it is the only justification for the US-style corporate bonhomie lavished on the launch party.

On first impression, the G1 looks bulky compared with other PDA-style devices, and especially compared with the sleek looking iPhone. Next to the iPhone, the G1 will break a few mirrors.

T-Mobile claims it has obliged customers with the inclusion of a full QWERTY keyboard, a minor innovation these days, which it nevertheless suggests improves ease-of-use of key web functions.

The ‘Android Market’, Google’s answer to Apple’s App Store, is certainly an area with enormous potential.

But it’s success will largely be down to developer enthusiasm for Android products through next year and beyond – HTC/T-Mobile have limited exclusives on the Google tie-up, as other manufacturers including Motorola, Samsung and LG launch their own devices on networks such as O2 parent Telefónica, among others, in 2009.

Without conventional business email to speak of it’s hard to see how the G1 will appeal to businesses, just as the original iPhone largely failed to do.

T-Mobile’s move to make it available on consumer contract only, excluding prepay and business customers anyway, is a mistake Apple made and duly corrected with the iPhone 3G. 

So, the G1 will have to live with inevitable iPhone comparisons in the consumer space – not to mention the onslaught of high-spec cameraphones from incumbent manufacturers now hitting the market.

The iPhone ranked number two in a recent ‘cool brand’ chart, with Apple at three. Its whole selling point was clear: it combined the best-selling iPod player with a phone, along with an Apple user experience.

The G1’s appeal is more esoteric: a superior mobile internet experience and an open shop for developers.

Although Google is ‘cool’ to many, and the biggest web search engine in the world to boot, the brand doesn’t have the device, or the USP, to encourage customers to churn to T-Mobile in the way they did to O2 when the iPhone launched.

And most of the key market well-disposed to Google will likely be tied into O2 iPhone contracts until 2010 anyway.

This article originally appeared in Mobile News issue 424 (October 6, 2008).

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