By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Google has begun selling its own Android-based smartphone, the Nexus One, direct to consumers as both a locked and unlocked model only through a Web store that it is hosting.
Google may be going direct, analysts said, in order to show off Android's capabilities better than other Android phones using customized versions of Android. Google might also want direct access to consumers to get more information on how consumers use data and applications, they said.
The Nexus One features Android's 2.1 version, whereas other versions use 1.5 or, in the case of Motorola's Droid, 2.0. Google also made a software developer's kit for 2.1 available to applications developers. Android 2.1 adds such new features as voice text input and control; a phone book that aggregates contacts from multiple sources, including Facebook; email with multiple Gmail accounts; a universal inbox; and Microsoft Exchange support, said iSuppli.
Besides demonstrating the full capabilities of Android, the Nexus One gives Google direct access to consumers' use patterns, said iSuppli analyst Tina Teng. “Wireless carriers have gathered a great deal of useful information about smart-phone usage in recent years,” Teng said. The data, however, doesn't cover offline actions “such as how users interact with applications and how customers make use of information derived from applications,” she continued. Google could embed an applet into the Nexus One to send reports on user behaviors. “Such information is invaluable for application and user interface developers as they try to create next-generation software and services.”
Even without the Nexus One, the popularity of the Google OS “has enabled it to come within striking distance of the iPhone OS, said The NPD Group's analyst Ross Rubin. In October and November, Android phones quadrupled its third-quarter market share to move into third place in unit sales behind RIM and Apple, the company said in citing its consumer survey.
The long-awaited HTC-made device, dubbed a superphone because of its 1GHz Qualcomm-made Snapdragon processor, is available unlocked at $529 but costs only $179 when sold with two-year T-Mobile USA contract. Sometime in the future, however, Google promises to make the phone available for activation on the Verizon Wireless CDMA network in the U.S. and on Vodafone's European network.
Additional Google-brand phones will be available through the store at an unspecified time in the future.
Google said it launched the site “to provide an efficient way to connect Google's online users with selected Android phones.” The online store “has been designed with a focus on simplicity,” Google added.
The touchscreen phone features a 3.7-inch AMOLED 480 by 800 WVGA display and lacks hard dialing or QWERTY keypads. It operates in 3G mode in T-Mobile's 7.2Mbps HSPA network when purchased with T-Mobile service, but it slows to EDGE mode if purchased as an unlocked phone for use in AT&T's network. It's also designed to operate in 3G HSPA mode when roaming in foreign countries.
The phone features a so-called voice-enabled keyboard that lets users enter text without typing into text fields. Users can speak a text message, speak an IM, speak a tweet or Facebook update, or speak an email. Voice commands also let users search Google, call contacts, or get driving directions by just speaking into the phone.
Like the Motorola Droid, it offers an embedded navigation application with spoken turn-by-turn driving instructions. Other features include five home screen panels, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, 5-megapixel camera/camcorder with geo-tagging, and 4GB removable SD card that's expandable to 32GB.
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