Tech Check

Google: Is There A "gPhone" In Our Future?

A gPhone in the future? photo composite

Back in March, when Google hired Andy Rubin, one of the founders behind the Sidekick from Danger, Inc., there was rampant speculation that the company was careening down the path toward a Google-branded cell phone. I was told by sources that he was heading up a 100-person team on this project.

Since then, various Google execs have stepped forward to say there wasn't Google hardware in the company's future; but plenty of cool new software on the way designed specifically to take advantage of the wonderful world of wireless.

And now we're all at it again today, thanks to Google's (rumored $50 million) purchase of Grand Central, a neat, but tiny software company with a one-phone-number-fits-all kind of approach. It's cool technology. Blending the net and your phone, Grand Central lets users provide one phone number to people, and it'll ring at your home, office and cell.

CEO Craig Walker (who will stay on) tells my colleague Scott Budman at KNTV (NBC affiliate, San Francisco) in a recent interview: "They call one number and then we'll call all your real numbers and then you can answer whatever you want."

On Grand Central's Web site,the company says: "We’re particularly excited about this because it ensures that not only will we have the resources to continue to bring you even more innovative communications features down the road, but that we will be able to continue to offer you the service, with many features for free, for a long time to come.”

So naturally, with another wireless deal, tongues are wagging that this could be another building block in Google's longer term plans for a Google handset. The gPhone!

Not so fast. Google's long-stated, and often-reaffirmed strategic plan has been to provide the software building blocks to others more seasoned in the world of wireless. A good example: GoogleMaps on Apple's new iPhone. Anything more could rock the boat, as well as the Street.

"The fact that Google would be entering a whole new business would generate a lot of enthusiasm," Forrester's Charles Golvin told me back in March.

But Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster cautioned: "If Google comes out with a phone, I think it would be a surprise to Apple and it could sour the relationship." And surprising Apple would be a neat trick since Google's Eric Schmidt sits on Apple's board and it's unlikely Steve Jobs would want to do anything to that relationship.

Nope. Pacific Crest Securities' Steve Weinstein says Google's stated goal of attracting (re: buying!) the best and the brightest and getting its hands on as many puzzle pieces as possible seems to be alive and well. The Grand Central deal is just the latest example. "I think the likliehood that they'd go into the hardware side of (the wireless business) is extremely low," he tells me today.

And that seems to make a lot of sense. While Google shares blow past their best levels ever, (even as Apple continues to blow past its best share-price in history), why build and own the cow when you make your own milk and can sell it to anyone you want?

Well, you get what I'm trying to say...

Questions?  Comments?