Could Google’s First Phone Signal the Death of the PC?

Google is breaking away from the virtual world this autumn with the launch of its first mobile phone. Not content with dominating the search and online advertising arenas, the innovative company has developed a phone that has as much power as the desktop computers in use just a few years ago, and is clearly intended as a serious challenger to Apple’s iconic iPhone.

There’s a three megapixel camera, one-touch access to YouTube and instant messaging service Google Talk, and as well as listening to music users will be able to download tracks from a new service, Amazon MP3.

All of which shouts loud and clear that the G1 is targeted firmly at consumers. In fact when it’s launched in the UK in November on the T-Mobile network, there won’t even be a business tariff at first.

The phone, officially called ‘the T-Mobile G1 with Google’ will be free on a £40 tariff, including unlimited data for browsing. T-Mobile expects the device to appeal to some business users as well, however, and there are some features that make the G1 an interesting option for the growing number of mobile workers, wherever they are.

The phone, known as the G1, runs on Google’s own operating system, Android, which is designed to bring the experience of desktop computing to mobile devices. It connects to the internet through Wi-Fi and 3G and, like the iPhone, making calls, sending emails via Gmail, surfing the web and using contacts and calendars are a touch of the screen or a click of the trackball away.

Although the G1 has the same 3.2 inch screen as Apple’s iPhone and a similar touchscreen keyboard that takes up much of the screen space, it has one major difference: a slide-out qwerty keyboard. Although the keys are tiny this arguably makes email on the move easier and more realistic as you can type in a message of a decent length and view it on a large screen.

The G1 is the first phone to have a built-in compass with motion-sensing technology, and users can navigate by using street-level Google Maps: no more getting lost on the way to meetings, interviews, or lunches.

Users will be able to download additional programs onto the G1 from the Android Market, an online software superstore. Android is open-source, so anyone can develop programs for the phone and make them available to other users without going through a Google approval process.

Google claims Android effectively makes the phone future-proof, as users will be able to get frequent updates to the operating system as well as new software. And somewhere among the seriously practical and seriously playful applications that are sure to be developed, there will be some that make the G1 more useful to businesses and professionals.

Android is another step towards the current obsession of technology companies: providing the perfect mobile experience. Everyone in the industry is working on finding a way to harness the computing power tucked up in those little handsets to allow everyone from students to mobile professionals to do much more with their phones

At the moment, however, while the G1 supports Microsoft’s Word and Excel, it doesn’t support Exchange for enterprise email. You need a Google Gmail account to use the email service and it won’t synchronise with Outlook, although it is possible to automatically redirect work email to a Gmail account, and its likely that one of the first third-party applications will be support for Exchange.

Other applications available to download at launch will include cab4me, which finds and books a cab based on your locations, PedNav, which helps you find the best walking or public transport route to where you want to go, and Shopsavvy, a program that turns the phone into a bar-code scanner that can give you instant price comparisons.

The G1 will run on a version of Google’s new browser, Chrome, offering easy searching of the internet, and fast results, but the phone won’t have Apple’s patented multi-touch technology that lets you enlarge and zoom in on web pages simply by making pinching and expanding movements on the screen with your fingers.

Google’s first phone, made by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, also loses out to the iPhone in the looks department, with most reviewers saying it’s an ugly duckling to Apple’s swan. There’s no doubt that the iPhone is the prettiest phone around, but this could change once future Android-based design-led handsets made by the likes of LG and Samsung are released in the next year or so.

Ahead of its launch, the critics have given the G1 a mixed reaction. The consensus seems to be that it’s a good first effort, fast and responsive, and probably the first serious contender to the iPhone, but it just isn’t as sleek, exciting and sexy.

Despite the inevitable, and not always favourable, comparisons with the iPhone, gadget and Google lovers are enthused about the G1: some reports estimated that ahead of its US launch in October, the entire initial US allocation of 1.5 million handsets had been pre-ordered, with another two million earmarked for high-street retailers. T-Mobile won’t start taking pre-orders in the UK until a couple of weeks before the phone’s release, but it says tens of thousands of people have already registered their interest.

The ‘Google phone’ might not be getting people buzzing about its design, but the use of Android as its flexible foundation will grow the global smartphone market hugely. The day when we’re all using fast, powerful, easy and practical mobile devices in our day-to-day lives and at work, wherever that might be, is getting ever closer. This time next year, the G1 and its offspring could well have dealt another fatal blow to the desktop PC.

To learn more about the G1 and register an interest, go to www.t-mobile.co.uk/shop/mobile-phones/whats-hot/

Jeff Smith is the managing director of Karma Technologies, a green web company that gets YOUR business to GOOGLE PAGE 1!


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