Google unveils iPhone rival

The internet giant reveals the Nexus One, its challenger to Apple's dominance in the smartphone market.

Google employee Sara Rowghani stands next to an enlarged model of the Nexus One phone at a demo in California.
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MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA // Google has taken the wraps off a new smartphone that it will sell directly to consumers, aiming to boost its position in the emerging mobile internet market by exerting greater control over the new generation of web-surfing devices. The sleek touchscreen phone, dubbed the Nexus One, is the company's boldest foray outside its traditional internet home turf and represents the first time the 11-year-old company will sell a consumer electronics device bearing its well-known brand.

But analysts have said the phone is not as revolutionary in design as Apple's iPhone. Technology websites and forums gave Google favorable reviews but also noted the new phone was not that different from others in the market that run Google's Android software, such as Motorola's Droid. The Nexus One ships immediately and exclusively from Google's online store for US$179 (Dh657) with a two-year contract from Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA, or $529 without a service plan.

Analysts have said the more expensive unlocked phone is priced too high to dramatically alter the relationship between carriers and hardware vendors in which wireless service providers have traditionally controlled handset distribution in the US. It "wasn't the game-changer people thought it could be," Canaccord Adams analyst Jeff Rath said. Google could have shaken up the industry by offering the device for free, but instead chose more traditional pricing, he said.

Executives said the phone could be profitable for Google, though analysts are not forecasting a revenue windfall in the short term. But the move, which Google announced at a press event at its Mountain View, California headquarters yesterday, raises the stakes in the fast-growing smartphone business which it entered two years ago by developing the free Android software for smartphones made by other companies.

The highly anticipated Nexus One, which Google designed in close collaboration with hardware maker HTC, could provide Google with a viable challenge to the iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry. Google's decision to sell its own Google-branded phones is "a sea change in terms of Google now owning the customer, making the carrier a little bit less relevant to the conversation and maintaining more control over the hardware and software experience because they realize they're competing with players like Apple and the iPhone," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis at market research firm Interpret.

The Nexus One is the first of a variety of smartphones that Google said were in the pipeline as the company seeks to expand its reach from the PC to the mobile world and ensure its online products and ads get prominent placement on a new breed of wireless Internet devices. Executives said that in the spring Google will sell phones that use Verizon Wireless's network in the United States and Vodafone's in Europe. Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone.

* Reuters