Lots of people are saying there’s no way Google will enter the phone market directly and compete with all these handset manufacturers who have bet on Android. Daring Fireball, PC World and IntoMobile are among the doubters. And a lot of people are pointing to a Tom Krazit/CNET article last month that quoted Google’s Andy Rubin: “We’re not making hardware…We’re enabling other people to build hardware,” and “Rubin, vice president of engineering for Android at Google, scoffed at the notion that the company would “compete with its customers” by releasing its own phone.”
Normally I’d just point to the fact that many companies deny the existence of products until the day they announce them. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) scoffed at the notion that they’d ever build a phone until they announced the iPhone, for example. The last thing Google wants is a lot of confusion among handset manufacturers just when those manufacturers are putting the finishing touches on their own Android phones.
But there may be another way Google will argue that they aren’t “competing with customers” by launching their own device – technically, it may not be a phone.
The Google Phone may be a data only, VoIP driven device. And Google may be lining up at least AT&T (NYSE:T) to provide those data services for the Google Phone, says one person we spoke with today.
Users could still make calls just like a normal phone, of course. The calls would just be over the data service instead. In fact, this is the exact vision Google proposed back in 2007 when they were bidding on the FCC auctions for the 700MHz spectrum.
Google can even issue phone numbers to users via Google Voice. In fact, I’ve already ported my mobile number to Google Voice, and Google has plans to roll out that feature more broadly. Google Voice can also handle the VoIP function for the phone.
Are AT&T and the other carriers interested? Our source says AT&T is already bidding for the business, and may be willing to sell data to Google, with certain conditions, for $20/month. The carriers won’t love this, at all. But they’d be dumb to let their competitors take the business instead. Our guess is at least the U.S. GSM carriers, TMobile and AT&T, would support the phone.
Our sources at AT&T have confirmed that they’ll sell data-only plans to customers who bring in BlackBerry and Windows devices, and strip out the voice plan. They won’t do this with all devices – you can’t get a data only plan on the iPhone, for example. But AT&T is open to data-only customer relationships.
Will the Google Phone be data/VoIP only? Right now we only have one thin source for this. But we’re continuing to dig.