The internet is buzzing with rumors about a possibility of a phone from Google. I too have posted some thoughts in the past. It is being said that Google isn’t developing a phone but an operating system. That kinda sounds right as Google is known for its software and not for its hardware capabilities. Although Andy Rubin (possibly the main guy running the GPhone operation) did create the SideKick, which was an awesome phone.
Based on this latest rumor, the threat could be more towards the likes of Microsoft, Symbian and other mobile OS providers. The OS play is interesting as Google will have to depend on OEM vendors and carriers to some extent for getting its service to the market. This is in contrast to Apple who has all or nothing mentality (of course excluding the RF infrastructure).
My intent with the post is not really to spread more rumors. It is more around analyzing how Google could solve this problem. They probably have the best armory of services and applications, which can be extended to a Mobile ecosystem. This post delves into the approach from my perspective. I will try and break my analysis down in various horizontal components, which comprise the ecosystem. This post will be in three parts covering:
- Base operating system and mobile features
- Messaging, Productivity and Media features (live now)
- Application Ecosystem and Revenue Enablement (live now)
So without further ado, let’s look at part one.
Base Operating System
These days apart from flawless RF and voice capabilities, an operating system is the most critical element of the mobile environment. As users expect more and more from their mobile phones, the demands for better operating systems keep growing. Now selecting an operating system is a very critical decision for Google. Learning from Apple, going with a unix based system should do the trick.
OpenMoko is a start-up which has been playing in this space by offering their Linux based mobile operating system. They also offer a reference device called the Neo 1973, which can be used by developers as a platform. Recently Phoronix reported that Google was in talks with OpenMoko in order to develop the gPhone.
From my perspective, this would be a right approach for Google versus developing something from the ground up. Bear in mind that the OS was somewhat easy for Apple as they have a very proven system with MAC OS X. Google does not have the same leverage. OpenMoko is fairly mature, although not really market proven. In any case it would be a good start for Google, where it can improve it further if needed.
Now remember that Google had also bought Android few years back. The team at Android was also working on building a linux based mobile operating system. So Google has options, but mobile linux is the way to go.
Basic Mobile Functions
When it comes to applications, Google in my mind will really excel in comparison to the competition. As I was saying before, Google has a impressive portfolio of web services, which it can utilize to bring the best to the mobile platform. Let’s look at some of the areas.
Voice still remains the primary application for the mobile phones. Apart from direct voice calls and voice-mail feature-set, this space hasn’t change much over past decade or so. In contrast, there has been significant improvement in the areas of Internet telephony, voice chat and VOIP. Services such as Skype and Vonage have taken the voice calling to the next level.
Google recently acquired Grand Central, which has been a hot player in the VOIP domain. Grand Central offers tons of features around calling and can easily extend it to the mobile domain. They already are dabbling with the Mobile Inbox concept, which offers Visual Voicemail capabilities on the mobile handset. Google should completely leverage these features and bring into the mobile ecosystem.
Apart from GrandCentral features, Google can enable full integration with GTalk, their Voice IM service. This will be really interesting as phone to PC calling isn’t so prevalent in the market. Skype,the leading player in the VOIP service, is planning a similar integration with their new mobile service planned with 3 Mobile. This feature will certainly give Google an edge.
Almost all mobile phones these days offer some type of contacts management application. However these applications rarely offer capabilities beyond a typical phone-book. Not to mention that these phone-books almost always are static and do not play well with any contact management service.
Google can break this static paradigm and really leverage network intelligence. Google already does a decent job in managing contacts between GMail, GTalk and Orkut. I use all three services and my contact list always remains synchronized. From my point of view the handset resident contacts application should be fully integrated with the network resident Google contacts. This will allow dynamic access to this contact list and it can be updated any time. Not to mention the data would be backed up. So you don’t have to worry if your phone gets lost.
In addition such a service would leverage network intelligence for improving voice calling functions. Using GTalk (or any IM) one can easily lookup “buddy status”, where it informs you if someone is away or busy, which in turn improves the quality of communication. This feature has been missing in mobile handsets for quite some time. Leveraging GTalk integration, Google can allow users to lookup status before calling. In this scenario I as a user can also configure additional status. For example: If I am in a meeting, I can configure my status to “Message Mode”, which let’s potential callers know that I am busy and can only entertain text messages.
Now most of you may think that the aforementioned feature-set would be sufficient. Not me though. I see a lot of power within the contacts list. The contact list is the user’s true social graph, which can offer much more than just phone numbers. Google can leverage its own social network Orkut and can import the buddy information to make the experience richer. For example: From the contacts application, I should be able to view my Friends profile and other information. This view can also be utilized to view latest pictures and comments posted by friends. Yes I know Orkut isnt as popular in USA. I would hope if the app developers would enable the contacts service to integrate with other networks as well. They could use some learnings from SocialStream and bring into the mobile ecosystem.
So this concludes Part 1 in this series. Please do send in your comments and thoughts. Come back for other two parts in the series, which I will be posting over next couple weeks. Better yet, subscribe to the RSS feed, which will automatically keep you in the loop.
Update: The second part is live now, please continue reading.
Note: GPhone mockup, courtesy Last 100 and Daniel Langendorf.