Monday, March 19, 2007

Why Google needs a phone (now)

Boring as it was, the rumor about the Apple iPhone turned out to be right. Recent estimates quantify at 400 millions the marketing saving by Apple, after the announcement (not a small deal...). Now the rumors filling the blogs is that Google is working on the Goophone or whatever they will call it (but I like Goophone... I should trademark it then sue them later ;-)

There are pictures on the web from Endgadget and Gizmodo (two smartphones, again, please...), rumors from a VC that Google has 100 people working on it (hey, they have 100 people working on pretty much everything, where's the surprise?), a recruiting site that says "Google is experimenting with a few wireless communications systems including some completely novel concepts" (surprise!, as before) and the head of Google operations in Spain and Portugal, Isabel Aguilera, who said it is pretty much all true. Actually, she started all the rumors. A lady of latin blood that could not keep a secret? Wow. It makes the story even more interesting...

Jokes apart, Google is certainly putting a lot of effort in mobile. The holy grail of advertising is here. You are in front of a computer a few hours, but you wear your phone all the time. How can they ignore it?

They don't. So you have Google Mobile with search, maps, Gmail and stuff. All pretty nice.

The problem? The mobile operators... They do not like Google. They made a mistake, some time ago, to embrace RIM and the Blackberries. Their brand is totally diluted with high end email users. If you ask a Blackberry user "who's your carrier?", it will take them a few seconds to answer. The loyalty is with the device, not the mobile operator. On the contrary, if you ask anybody on the street "who gives you SMS?", the answer is "my carrier, xyz!". That's gold in marketing.

The carriers cannot afford to make that mistake again, or they will turn themselves into a "dumb pipe". Give room to Google (or Yahoo) and you are dead. They will take your device and make it theirs. Gone. You are history, you are just a provider of an IP address fighting in a commodity market with crashing prices (sounds like Web 1.0 and the ISP market, right?).

For Google to be relevant, they either have to wait until the carriers lose their grip (good luck with that) or jump and build a phone with its own network. Possibly, NOT a smartphone. A mass market device, to maximize their ad market. We already have the iPhone for niches. And it is cool enough.

Would Google do it or go the carrier way, praying to get some room on their phones and wait for the better? With all that cash, it would be tempting to change the world... They need to conquer the mobile market. They can do it if they have a phone.

Would they make it? I doubt it, but I sure hope they will, because it will be fun (and it would give my segmentation argument more legs ;-)