Google phone just a step toward Net-advertising dominance

"According to Nomura phone analyst Richard Windsor, the company has confirmed the project. 'Google has come out of the closet at the CeBIT trade fair admitting that it is working on a mobile phone of its own,' he said in a note. 'This is not going to be a high-end device but a mass market device aimed at bringing Google to users who don't have a PC,'" directtraffic.org reports.

Meanwhile, engadget.com also claims to have new info about the device, which it refers to as the Google Switch. The site even includes what could be a screen image of the phones contact program.

Google corporate, however, continues to neither confirm nor deny the report.

Still, that Google will deliver a phone is a possibility, and the question remains: "Why would Google want to mess with the phone business?"

Dan Nystedt at the IDG News Service posed the question the other day, and came up with this: "The commentaries have been mostly about rumors, and they lack a good motive for such a move. Google makes software, not hardware, and rumors that it was developing a PC a few years back turned out to be wrong -- it was simply making software for PCs."

Well, I have a different perspective, with all due respect to Mr. Nystedt. Google wants to make a Google-y phone for the same reason it wants to give free WiFi to Mountain View, San Francisco, and -- as observed in a fascinating article on Daily Wireless -- perhaps the entire nation.

The Daily Wireless article lists eight signs that Google is planning to build a national wireless network. Among them (and in addition to the free WiFi in Mountain View and offer to San Fran), the article notes that: Google is investing heavily in dark fiber (dark fiber has such an ominous ring to it. I bet the Death Star was laden with that stuff); it's investing in power-line based broadband technology; and it's planting datacenters left and right.

So then: If Google is sowing the seeds for a nationwide wireless network -- perhaps even a free one -- why would it do so? The company could launch such a venture under the guise of delivering knowledge to the people, and perhaps that truly is part of the Google ambition. But it certainly wouldn't just be a charitable endeavor. Google surely realizes that the more people in the U.S. (and beyond) who get online and use Google services, the more money Google makes through advertising. And what better way to generate more Net users, AKA ad-clickers, then giving away wireless service to the masses?

Internet-ad revenue is, after all, Google's bread and butter, and the company is introducing more and more ways to deliver targeted ads aimed squarely at your cerebral cortex via your eyeballs. Do a Google search for info; get an ad. Do a Google Maps search for, say, pizza; get an ad. Check your Gmail; get an ad. Access files via Google Apps; get an ad. Hop over to YouTube (which Google bought last year); get an ad. Log in to an online game, and soon enough, I expect you'll find Google-delivered ads, because Google recently scooped up AdScape, an in-game advertising startup.

Of course, the notion of offering free Internet access, essentially paid for by advertisers, isn't a new one. You may recall that NetZero gave it a whirl back in the early days of the Internet Age. Alas, the venture was a flop, arguably because the Net had yet to prove itself as a successful medium for businesses to advertise to consumers. Thus, the company couldn't support the infrastructure and deliver a useful, reliable service.

But now we know just how lucrative the world of Internet advertising is. Suddenly, NetZero's original business model looks quite viable, though updated to the current state of the Internet Age.

And Google can certainly afford to build up a wireless Internet infrastructure and deliver Net access, gratis, along with delivering all the fabulous aforementioned services, just like NBC and ABC and other major TV stations can bring you daily programming for free. The cost of the hardware and development is all paid for through advertising.

So there you have it. Google can practically hand out Google-optimized smart phones through which you and I can access the free wireless GoogleNet to partake in just about any (Google-delivered) service we might want or need, from e-mail and calendar to maps to entertainment like streaming video -- again, for free.

OK, so not entirely free. If that above scenario were to play out, and you're a business that depends on Net advertising, you may find that Google really is the only company that can bring your message to the masses, and you'll really have no choice but to pay a premium for that privilege.

And personally, I still find it all just a little bit troubling.

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