The Google Phone: "Information" Debunked, And How Low The Journalism Profession Has Sunk
Late last Friday night, the blogosphere began to fill with reports of mysterious new Android-powered phones in Google employees’ hands (which rapidly translated into Google employees’ Twitter posts and pictures). According to TechCrunch, whose employees fired off some of the first missives here and here, this is what the "Nexus One" (which appears to be a Google-labeled variant of the HTC Passion) looks like:
Other, clearer images have subsequently emerged, along with video:
The remainder of the tech "journalist" community predictably responded in short order with their own missives, echoing what they read and saw elsewhere (often without attribution) and spicing up their stories with rumors quoting anonymous ‘knowledgeable sources’ (which I suspect were often nothing more than alternate personalities rattling around in the brains of the "journalists"). Although sad, this situation isn’t surprising; it’s all about maximizing the number of eyeballs visiting websites for these folks, and companies like Google and Apple are particularly tempting subjects. Note, for example, yesterday’s case study; Toshiba releases a 64 Gbit NAND flash memory, and The Unofficial Apple Weblog immediately reports a rumor that Apple will be using it in future iPods and iPhones…a rumor that TUAW and its peers conveniently started!
"Journalists" aside, I was most disappointed in the conduct of traditional news media sources such as the Wall Street Journal. Check out this excerpt of last Saturday’s sensationalist coverage (bolded emphasis is mine):
Google Inc. has designed a cellphone it plans to sell directly to consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The phone is called the Nexus One and is being manufactured for Google by HTC Corp., these people said. It runs Android, the operating system for mobile phones that Google developed, they added.…The Internet giant is taking a new, and potentially risky, approach to selling the device. Rather than selling the phone through a wireless carrier — the way the bulk of phones are sold in the U.S. today — Google plans to sell the Nexus One itself online. Users will have to buy cellular service for the device separately.
Other sources expanded on the hearsay; check out, for example, Slashdot’s initial title (now with the ‘first’ qualifier retracted):
And here’s Wired’s (again, now toned-down) initial take:
‘Nexus One’ refers to the user agent string the phone reports (buried, for example, in the EXIF data within photos snapped with the device’s camera), presumably reminiscent of the Nexus series of androids from Philip K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. References to an earlier iteration of the design, with a ‘Phone88′ user agent string, have also been reported.
There’s one fundamental problem with Slashdot’s (and others’) claims, and it’s a biggie. The Nexus One is not Google’s first Android phone. It’s not even the second one. The ‘first phone’ honor goes to the unlocked version of the T-Mobile G1, which I showcased in a Prying Eyes writeup a few months back. The phone’s unlocked variant is called the Android Dev Phone 1 and is publicly sold for $399 to anyone who spends $25 on a developer registration fee. And the second Google Phone is the Ion, a branded version of the HTC Magic.
And as to Wired’s wayward prognostication, what do we know for sure about the Nexus One? Not much. Here’s what a Google corporate blog post titled ‘An Android dogfood diet for the holidays‘ says, reiterating a longstanding internal-testing policy that began with the G1:
At Google, we are constantly experimenting with new products and technologies, and often ask employees to test these products for quick feedback and suggestions for improvements in a process we call dogfooding (from "eating your own dogfood"). Well this holiday season, we are taking dogfooding to a new level.
We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it.
Unfortunately, because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details. We hope to share more after our dogfood diet.
And here are some of the things (beyond those already mentioned in this writeup) that we think we know:
- The GSM (translation: no Sprint or Verizon support) handset runs an as-yet-unreleased v2.1 of the Android O/S
- Analysis of the ROM code gleans the following hardware details:
- Proximity Sensor/Light Sensor: Capella CM3602 per sensors.mahimahi.so in Nexus One ROM Dump.
- Accelerometer: BMA150 3-axis Accelerometer per sensors.mahimahi.so in Nexus One ROM Dump.
- Magnetic Compass: AK8973 3-axis Magnetic field sensor/AK8973 Orientation sensor per sensors.mahimahi.so in Nexus One ROM Dump.
- Wifi Radio / Bluetooth / FM: BCM4329 in lib/modules
- In libaudio.so I found “Routing audio to Speakerphone with back mic” reference.
- In libaudio.so I found “Stereo FM speaker” also referenced.
- Audience A1026 Noise Canceling Chip – No link but here is the A1024 found in libaudio.so
- Qualcomm QSD8K Specific hardware libs in lib/hw (QSD8250 Probably)
- Adreno 200 Graphics Core with OpenGLES 2.0 – Part of Snapdragon?
- Camera Info Vague, found some references to auto focus, flash, white balance and anti-banding in libcamera.so
- Per the above quote, the Nexus One reportedly employs an ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU and dual microphones (for ambient noise cancellation purposes). Other hardware details: an OLED screen, a trackpad, no physical keyboard, and a camera with a 5 Mpixel image sensor.
- And the FCC filing indicates that the Nexus One supports only T-Mobile’s UMTS/HSPA frequencies, not AT&T’s.
And what don’t we know? Simple; what if anything Google’s got planned for the Nexus One beyond acting as an internal testing platform. As earlier indicated, the G1 is still sold to developers, but it’s getting long in the tooth at this point. Perhaps Google will use the Nexus One as its next-generation developer platform. Given the Nexxus One’s support for T-Mobile’s 3G cellular data network, along with the longstanding relationship between Google and T-Mobile USA, it’s also reasonable to assume that T-Mobile will sell a version of the Nexus One at extended-contract subsidized pricing.
And will Google sell the Nexus One itself, expanding beyond the developer-only approach of the G1 to directly target consumers? Such a scenario is certainly possible, especially considering that T-Mobile recently unveiled no-contract pricing plans that are amenable to bring-your-own-handset situations. Handset documentation suggests that Google is in the process of setting up consumer-friendly website support resources. And Google filed a trademark application on the Nexus One name a week ago.
One the one hand, were Google to go this route, it’d be in a sense old news; Nokia, for example, has sold unlocked handsets in the U.S. for years. And it’d be a curious-at-best strategy, if the earlier-mentioned FCC filing is correct and AT&T customers therefore aren’t able to tap into the Nexus One’s 3G goodness. But the wild card here is pricing. Will Google leverage its substantial fiscal war chest and substantially under-price the Nexus One as compared to unlocked handsets past, under the assumption that subsequent ad revenue will justify the upfront subsidization?
The bottom line is that we just don’t know. And we won’t know until such time as Google and its cellular service provider partner(s) decide to tell us. All of this heedless speculation-masquerading-as-’fact’ I’m seeing by ‘journalists’ ahead of any potential future Google official announcement is both irresponsible and sad.