Google's Nexus One: It's the store, stupid

Can Google free us from the headlock our wireless carriers have got us in? Maybe. But it'll take more than one phone to do it

So on Tuesday, Google did indeed unveil the Nexus One "superphone," and yet life is strangely similar to how it was on Monday.

I did not attend Tuesday's highly anticipated press event, but based on the live blog coverage (as well as the live blog coverage of the live blog coverage), it appears to have been rather a ho-hum affair.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out what Cringely makes of the latest skirmish between Cupertino's and Mountain View's tech heavyweights in "Google takes on Apple" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Cool-looking phone? You bet: thin, light, OLED touch screen, voice-enabled keyboard, whizzy software, yadda yadda yadda. Life changing? Not exactly. Or at least, not any time soon.

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As John Stokes of Ars Technica put it, the biggest Google news yesterday was a URL: That's where U.S. consumers can buy an unlocked Nexus One directly from Google (for a whopping $529), as well as one with a two-year-commitment to T-Mobile (a less whopping $179).

Of course, if you go for the unlocked version your carrier options are still a) T-Mobile or b) AT&T (but only at slower 2G data speeds -- quick, cue up the Verizon "There's a map for that" ads). Those are the only two U.S. carriers that support GSM, the radio built into the Nexus One. Can you imagine any sane person skipping that T-Mobile discount just so they can go for a deal with slow and unsteady AT&T? Me neither. So what you get for your extra $350 is still a little fuzzy at this point.

The question is what happens next. Google says it will serve up a CDMA-based phone that will work on Verizon's network this spring. Nice, but again it's an unlocked phone that's still kinda-sorta locked to one network (unless you only plan to use it as a Wi-Fi device).

What Google is driving at, of course, is a world where cell phones (and really, that name is now wholly outdated) are sold the way personal computers have always been sold: unencumbered by a commitment to a single provider. In other words, no more lock-in -- just pick your phone, choose your carrier, and select your plan, in that order. Theoretically at least, carriers would then have to actually compete for your dollars, thus giving them a greater incentive to provide higher-quality service than they do now.

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