John Paczkowski

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The GPhone Lives: Google Uncrates the Nexus One “Superphone”

“Q: So if this is not the GPhone, when will we see the GPhone, and what will it be?

Eric Schmidt: We’re not announcing anything, but this is the platform for building a GPhone. It starts a whole wave of innovation…

Q: Does that mean there will be NO Google phone you can buy?

ES: Imagine not just one GPhone, but a thousand GPhones as a result of the partnerships…the many other people who will be joining the open initiative. We forgot to tell you that it’s available next week, and the terms are the broadest in the industry.

Q: …GPhone?

ES: We are not announcing a Google phone.

Q: Eric, I want to go back to the GPhone–what’s the deal?

ES: The deal is we don’t pre-announce products….If there were to be a Gphone, it would run Android.”

Google CEO Eric Schmidt during a Nov. 2007 conference call on Android

nexusDuring an Android demo in April 2008, Steve Horowitz, one of the original engineers working on Google’s Android platform, said “I’m here to tell you there is actually no GPhone,” echoing a similar point made by Google CEO Eric Schmidt when the operating system was announced. Now, not two years later, Google is telling us something different: There is a GPhone and its name is Nexus One.

At an event at Google’s (GOOG) Mountain View, Calif., headquarters this morning, a handful of company execs discussed the genesis of the Nexus One, tracing its evolution from the G1–the first Android phone–to the Verizon (VZ) Droid. In the short time since Android was launched, the number of devices running it has grown to 20, offered by 59 carriers in 48 countries.

“To help Android to adapt to the needs of users like you and me, our engineering department sometimes works with partners to speed innovation around Android,” Mario Queiroz, VP of Product Management, said during opening remarks. “But we want to do more. So we asked ourselves, ‘What if we worked even more closely with our partners to bring devices to market that will help us better showcase some of the technology we’ve developed?’”

The result: Nexus One. “The dictionary definition of Nexus One is a point of convergence. Its that point at which Web meets phone,” Queiroz explains. “The Nexus One belongs in an emerging category of devices we call superphones.”

Eric Tseng, a senior Google product manager, takes the stage to walk through Nexus One’s features, which we’re now all pretty familiar with: 3.7-inch active-matrix organic LED display, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, five-megapixel camera with LED flash, a trackball with a multicolor notification LED, light and proximity sensors that save power.

The device is 11.5 millimeters thick and weighs about 130 grams, which Tseng notes is no heavier than a keychain-size Swiss Army knife. Nexus One runs on Android 2.1, a.k.a. “Eclair.” Oh, it also offers “support” for personalization–engrave your name or that of a loved one on the back.

That’s the baseline offering, but there are other enhancements. Among them: Five home-screen panels that allow users to add more widgets, like Google’s GPS weather widget, which is evidently very exciting and “Googley.”

Another enhancement: “Living wallpapers,” dynamic, animated home-screen images–leaves falling on water, for example; tap the screen and the water ripples. Neat feature, but not exactly a killer app.

Also onboard: A photo-gallery app developed with the folks at Cool Iris and tricked out with some pretty slick 3-D viewing. Tip the phone and the photos recede, etc.

Finally, Google has developed some significant voice enhancements. Evidently, the company has voice-enabled all text fields on the device. “Now, we can speak our tweets and Facebook status updates,” says Tseng.

All in all, an impressive device. Be sure to read Walt Mossberg’s review for a more in-depth look at Nexus One.

So how do you get your hands on a Google superphone? Through a “Google-hosted Web Store,” says Queiroz. You can buy a phone with service from a carrier partner, or without service.

A Nexus One without service goes for $529. For $179, you can buy it from T-Mobile with service. In the spring, you’ll be able to buy it from–surprise!Verizon Wireless (VZ) and Vodafone (VOD).

Transactions will be handled by Google Checkout, so if you’re a Google Account holder, purchasing the device should be fairly simple.

One last point worth noting here: Queiroz stresses that the Nexus One is the first of a number of products developed via this new collaborative process with partners. “Our plan is to add more carriers and more devices in the future,” he says.

Ah. As Eric Schmidt said back in 2007, “Imagine not just one GPhone, but a thousand GPhones as a result of the partnerships.”

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE Q&A:

  • Nexus Ones ordered from T-Mobile ship today.
  • Google is the merchant of record. When you buy a Nexus One, you buy it from Google.
  • Why was it necessary for Google to design the Nexus One? Google didn’t really design the phone. “HTC did, Google is just merchandising it.”
  • Android 2.1 will be available for Droid and other Android devices soon.
  • Google’s Web Store is “simply another distribution channel.” It is not designed to replace or disintermediate carriers or mobile phone retailers.
  • Queiroz on the Google Web Store program: “If users are interested in a different form factor and our software supports it, we’ll pursue it. We’re going to look at different options of devices that can be added to the program. We will consider other mobile phones.”
  • Andy Rubin, VP, Engineering: “Today’s superphone is tomorrow’s smartphone.”
  • Question from Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land: “Where is the ad-supported mobile phone? Where’s the revolution?” Sadly, Rubin dodges. Gotta take a first step before you can change the world…blah lah blah.
  • How do superphones differ from smartphones? Rubin: “It’s just the evolution of the platform….It’s the greater memory, the faster processors….The Nexus One is as powerful as your laptop was four years ago.”
  • Question for Motorola’s (MOT) Sanjay Jha: Is Motorola worried that Nexus One will cannibalize Droid sales? Jha says no, and his presence here today supports that. Still it’s tough to believe him. Maybe Motorola and Google are already working on Nexus Two.

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