Stop the Presses: Google Might Be Doing Something


In scanning the tech headlines this morning, I was most struck by this line from a smart Washington Post roundup of speculation about a Google cell phone:

Still, the idea of a Google phone is compelling, and great fun to read about.

This comment comes in the context of a nicely researched piece about how most analysts, and pretty much everybody who has taken a couple of minutes to think about it, agree that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for Google to launch its own phone into an already crowded sector.


In fact, it makes about as much sense as it would for Microsoft to start specing out hardware and distributing it under its own brand name. Origami, anyone?


Google is already entering into all sorts of agreements with mobile carriers to pre-install its search and software; launching its own (we'd assume) pre-loaded phone would simply put at risk relationships in a market that it's already set to dominate, as The Post points out.


So, why is it so much fun to read random speculation about what Google will do next? Why does this particular massive company get a pass -- or at the very least, get handled with kid gloves -- when it comes to issues like customer data retention and playing nice with oppressive regimes in countries like China? Even more frustrating, from my crabby point of view, is the effective dearth of commentary on the preferential aspects of those search deals Google is cutting with mobile providers -- is Net Neutrality just for WANs?


Certainly, there are some smart people out there speculating about what a hugely profitable company like Google might do with all that ad revenue. One of the more interesting pieces I've seen recently was at WebProNews -- it ties the dark fiber and VoIP storylines together into a scenario in which Google just gives devices away to hook folks into its own telecom network. (To give credit where credit is due, I heard Bob Cringley express essentially the same opinion at a Webmasters' conference in Vegas about 15 months ago. And Google's Eric Schmidt said last year that "phones," if you can still call them that, ultimately should be free.)


That's a somewhat grander vision than Google just whipping up a gadget to play in the same market as the iPhone. Maybe it will happen; maybe it won't.


Don't get me wrong; Google is my browser's home page, and we use Google Analytics as one prism on our site performance. So, we like Google -- it's extraordinarily good at its core search business, and it does have some additional offerings that are very useful.


But I remain at a loss over the media frenzy that accompanies every little thing that Google does -- or doesn't do. I suppose the main reason is that tech is largely a consumer passion these days, and random speculation is the soul of how information is spread on the Internet. (The Post article notes that the recent Google Phone hubbub ultimately stems largely from anonymous userboard posts.) Besides, business is boring.


I'm even more irked at the media perception that Google is a point-on rival to Microsoft. Steve Ballmer recently got another "FUD" bashing for downplaying competition between the two -- I certainly wouldn't call any effort by a business with a bigger market cap than IBM "cute," even to disparage ancillary projects -- but the fact remains that Microsoft is an OS and software company, and Google is a Web apps and, at its core, advertising network.


Sure, Microsoft would love to get a bigger share of search revenue, and it's turning to Web-based delivery of some of its business apps. So there is some market friction there.


But the idea of this all-encompassing rivalry between Google and Microsoft is largely the creation of people who just hate Microsoft so much that they are looking for a white knight to come joust it off its irritatingly entrenched throne. Redmond has much bigger worries than Google in the data center and serious enterprise apps sectors; telcos should be looking over their shoulder at Google, not because of cool gadgets but because of its looming network presence.

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