So in 2007 if Apple Slapped a Logo on an HTC Excalibur, Would That Have Been "the iPhone"?

nexus-one-google-phone

Maybe it's me; maybe it's a fanboy thing; maybe it's my desire to impose more text on screen about this, but when I read people calling an HTC HD2/Dragon/Passion device absent HTC branding "THE Google Phone" (now officially caught on camera, see above), I can't help but think that if we go back to 2007 and Steve Jobs had taken the stage at Macworld and pulled out an HTC Excalibur with Apple branding on it, even if it had an Apple OS, it wouldn't have been "THE iPhone" and it certainly isn't what Apple did or what we as consumers got.

"This changes everything" say many blogs. Certainly, for Google's Android partners, competing against the Google brand, and bank, and engineering team changes a lot. And if they sell it unlocked (assuming they put a radio in it that can support all 4 US carriers, including both AT&T and T-Mobile 3G, and Verizon and Sprint EVDO) it will change things for the carriers, and for users who are accustomed to paying subsidized prices.

Before Apple released the original iPhone in 2007 there was talk (read: hope) of Apple releasing it unlocked, and talk (read: more hope) again with the iPhone 3G. (TiPb even predicted that as WWDC 2008's "one more thing" -- and boy were we wrong). It sounds great and we gadget geeks love it, but the truth is unlocked devices coast $700+, as anyone currently trying to import an HTC HD2 or Xperia X10 are no doubt aware.

The iPhone became a phenomenon when it hit $199 and a bigger one when it hit $99 through heavy carrier subsidies. Next June/July when another iPhone comes along, current owners will again be livid if AT&T doesn't cut them a break on costs, even if they haven' fulfilled their own end of the 2 year contract again. Google could possibly try to self-subsidize with the intent on making back the money via advertising (or online services, though they traditionally give those away for free in exchange for the aforementioned ad revenue), and that really would "change everything" if it worked. (Hey, TiPb's joked Google should just give free cell service to everyone in the US. Then it's game over.)

This might be a great phone. It might be the best smartphone to date. But for an end user, how will it be different than if HTC simply released the Dragon/Passion/HD2 running Android 2.1?

So, unless the above is just an HTC shell for as-yet-unrevealed and totally redesigned-by-Google hardware (or Google just buys HTC like they're buying everything else), it might well be a Google-branded phone, but it's not "THE Google Phone", at least not in the way the iPhone was and is Apple's. (It's even being internally labeled the Nexus One, for Blade

[Clarification: I'm not commenting on Google or their phone initiative here, I'm commenting on the coverage. Google hasn't announced a Google Phone. As their blog (which we linked to previously) plainly says, they're running tests with a partner, aka HTC, device. It's the coverage that's dubbing it Google Phone and a game changer. At this point, based on the image, it looks like an HTC device -- like an HD2/Passion/Dragon in Hero wrapping. And that's fine. That's great. If it's sold unlocked and runs on standard GSM 3G, I'd probably even buy one just to have fun with, sans contract. Analogies to the iPhone and Foxconn are completely off base, however. Foxconn isn't selling dozens of other devices, and certainly isn't selling other devices running iPhone OS X. Apple produces "THE iPhone". So far, this is a really interesting Android phone packaged by Google (instead of HTC or Verizon). But it's not "THE Google Phone". I suspect that one, running Chrome OS and using only Google Voice and VoIP, is still pending, and that well could be the next game changer.]

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Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

So in 2007 if Apple Slapped a Logo on an HTC Excalibur, Would That Have Been "the iPhone"?

43 Comments

Can we get some dimensions on that phone? Or is it too early? It looks smaller than the iPhone.

I agree with much of the post. However, don't forget that Apple does not manufacture the iPhone. So it's yet to be seen whether or not google actually designed the hardware, or htc did? Anyway, we'll find out more in the coming weeks i'm sure...

So with your logic the iPhone is a Foxconn not Apple iPhone. I think the design is what matters. If HTC is simply manufacturing the phone then is should be the G-Phone.

What I am amazed at is how all of these iPhone copycats and wannabes get away with infringing on Apple's technologies and/or design ideas. One really wonders why Apple doesn't defend its intellectual property more vigorously, by finding grounds to sue many of the other makers. I think they never got over losing the big Mac vs Windows lawsuit against Microsoft.

Google will slap their logo on a Ford Mustang and call it the google car. Google innovate or imitate?

Unless Google buys up a telco, how can they give away free cell service, free mobile os, or free hardware? I'm intrigued by the idea of a phone subsizided by ads rather than a ling contract. I'm excited for the day when we only pay for data and use Google voice or something like it for calls. That would save me $40 per month on AT&T minutes!

"maybe it’s a fanboy thing" Yes, maybe it is.
Apple 'farms out' their manufacturing all over south east asia - what - have you simply blocked that out.
Apple is a sandbox and sandboxes are for kiddies.

Yes? And? So what? AT&T ruined the iPhone through its spectacularly bad service. My iPhone works well only when it's connected to WiFi, and that's not why I bought it. Throw in their willful domestic spying for the Bush administration, and it all outweighs any Apple wonderfulness the iPhone has. My Credo Mobile HTC touch is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

@Douglas
Pot meet kettle. The second Apple hinted at suing Palm, Palm bitch slapped Steve with a hand full of its own patents it would counter-sue with.
I'm more intrigued with the direction Google seems to be going in relative to the mobile phone market than with any one phone. The fact that we are just as likely to see a Google/Android article on TiPB than we are an Apple article shows that I'm not the only one.

Foxconn is totally different. Apple isn't rebranding one of a dozen Foxconn phones some of which also run versions of iPhone OS X.

Would you also argue that Microsoft's first gen Zune was a Toshiba device rather than a Microsoft device? I don't think anyone really argued that the Zune wasn't a Microsoft device even though it was initially made/built by Toshiba with tons of input from Microsoft.
If Google goes the self-subsidized route, this device will give Apple a run for it's money. There are plenty of people who don't want an iPhone and there are plenty of people who want to not be on AT&T.

No cell phone costs $700 to make, unless it's diamond encrusted. These sky-high prices for unlocked phone are to keep the carriers happy.
It's about time somebody sold a phone with a "real" price tag. This will be a boon for all the cheapskates (i.e. "normal people") like me who have a moral objection to paying insane prices for a data plan but still want other smartphone features.

I think the difference between using Foxconn and HTC is that Foxconn is just a manufacturer, while HTC is a designer of phones. I think what Rene wants to know is who actually designed the hardware. Did HTC just make three phones and Google picked their favorite? Or did Google design every little detail on this thing and then hire HTC to manufacture it?

Ohhh I get it!! If we are defending apple for using foxconn its ALL GOOD!! But heaven forbid, someone not apart of the apple cult slaps their label on a phone, it is blasphemy!
Pot meet kettle.

If this is a simple rebranding of an HTC phone, your post is spot on. If Google had a partial or total hand in the design of the phone's innards, the Foxconn analogy is spot on. That you spent an entire article dwelling on the former case as fact with only a backhanded note at the end suggesting that it may be speculation, yes, makes this just a fanboy piece.
There is nothing inherently wrong with fanboy pieces, though. That said, the article's conclusion is self-evident, and does not even need the cheap shot at Google -- we already know that if Apple slapped their name on somebody else's design, it would not have been the iPhone. They tested those waters with the ROKR line, and it failed. That is the real question -- is the "Google Phone" a ROKR or an iPhone? But it would have been more difficult to ponder that question without assuming facts not in evidence to take a direct shot at Google, which seems to have been the entire point (even in the title) of the article.

Who manufactures iPhones? A:
iPhone Primary Contractors - a partial list Software and design Apple USA
Assembly: Foxconn?, Quanta, Unknown Taiwan
TFT-LCD Screen: Sanyo Epson, Sharp, TMD Japan
Video processor chip: Samsung Korea
Touch screen overlay: Balda Germany
Bluetooth chip: Cambridge Silicon Radio UK
Chip manufacture: TSMC, UMC Taiwan
Baseband IC: Infineon Technology Germany
WIFI Chip: Marvell USA
Touch screen control chip: Broadcom USA
CMOS chip: Micron USA
NOR Flash ICs: Intel, SST USA
Display Driver chip: National Semi, Novatek US, TW
Case, Mechanical parts: Catcher, Foxconn Tech Taiwan
Camera lens: Largan Precision Taiwan
Camera module: Altus-Tech, Primax, Lite On Taiwan
Battery Charger: Delta Electronics Taiwan
Timing Crystal: TXC Taiwan
Passive components: Cyntec Taiwan
Connector and cables: Cheng Uei, Entery Taiwan
(lifted from http://texyt.com/iphone+manufacturer+supplier+assembler+not+apple+00113)
From what I can see, this is a pretty standard mix of suppliers. What you don't see is Apple actually making anything other than the software.
On another note, it always makes me laugh when someone suggests other people are 'ripping off' Apple technology or design ideas. Apple are the ones doing most of the copying.
Apple are not the ones who 'invented' the GUI, that was Zerox Parc. Apple did not invent the mouse (Xerox Parc Again). That's why they lost the GUI battle with Microsoft, because for the most part someone else had the idea first.
OK, that's old news so lets bring this up to date with the iPhone. Lets see where Apple was the 1st? I'm not suggesting these were actually the first to market just that they existed prior to the iPhone.
1st Smartphone - Nokia Communicator
1st cameraphone - J-Phone
1st internet phone - Handspring (Palm) Treo
1st GUI phone - Handspring Treo
1st multimedia phone - Nokia N series
1st phone with an accelerometer - Nokia N95 (although it was crap)
What Apple do really, really well is take 2 or more of these emerging technologies and put them together in an interesting, easy to understand way.
Most of the big players were already heading in that direction but had already picked up too much baggage to make their versions easy to use. It took someone new (in this case Apple) to go through that feature list, throw out the dead wood and come up with something people could use.
Now there's been that clearout, other technologies are coming in and building on what Apple have started.
Android has now taken on the baton and is pushing forward new smartphone ideas and paradigms. Android stills need a tad more polish but I prefer it's greater customizabilty and it's ability to integrate contacts lists and content from not just SMS and emails but also from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
No doubt there will be a bit of technological leapfrogging between the iPhone and Android for a few years to come and that can only be a good thing.

@Douglas Kurz, New York, NY
Can you say a list of things those "wannabees" (yes, Nokia a HTC are wannabees compared to Apple in telephony) are infringing?

I have to disagree, what's radically different (in the U.S. at least) is that the phone is being sold exclusive of any carrier. As things are now an iPhone is more accurately an "iPhone brought to you by AT&T." The technology might not be anything radical, but the business plan is.

@David. Nobody charges what it costs to make a phone to the public. They need to make money so they charge more. Apple sells the iPhone at a 40% profit.

I think the point has been missed here.
there is NO foxconn phones, none. They simply take the parts and assemble them. They dont sell phones.
there ARE HTC phones sold DIRECT from HTC, designed AND build by HTC.
Google simply rebranded a HTC phone and called it a Google phone. Thats the point being made.
I dont see how its "omg a gamechanger Google Phone." Sure its a great specced HTC phone, and maybe some new Android version, but I dont see how its revolutionary over if a carrier branded it and released it like an HD2 and you could get it GSM unlocked.
I dont see anything revolutionary or game changing about it other then its a well specced phone with Android 2.1

@Dev, I wasn't clear so I posted a clarification. If this device is sold unlocked and runs on Rogers 3G, even I'm buying one. My commentary was directed at the coverage of "THE Google Phone", not at all at Google and/or Android. Apologies for not making that distinct immediately.
@JK. Exactly :)

Rene. I think like you. Media is wrong, is not a Google phone. Even in some blogs they said that Schmidt is a liar

I don't see why it matters who makes it and whose name is on it. If it's better than the 3gs, I'm getting it. Call me crazy but I want the best device no matter if it's made by Apple, Google, Foxconn, or HTC.

In an age of co-creation and collaborative enterprise, I'm not even sure I understand how important it is that Google designed the entire phone. In the vein of many meta-design type developments out of Google, why can't they collaborate on the hardware with a hardware manufacturer, and allow users to contribute to the design in a dynamic, open source environment? As long as HTC is getting appropriate credit (which seems to be the case even now, when nothing is even confirmed yet), I don't see the issue.

Kev, go take a look at isupply and see the real cost of making a smartphone such as iPhone. $700 is 3-4 times the cost, not a 40% markup. The carriers would get pissed if they sold them for just a 40% markup without a contract.

I think the blog coverage of the "Google Phone" is way beyond the facts. The statement that "This changes everything" is based on the presumption that the rumor that a Google branded phone is definitely true; so far, we only have the indirect and unofficial comments of Google employees, that the phone that they received would be out in some form for the general public in early 2010. Some of those people are high enough up that they would be expected to know about these things. That seems to count as "confirmation" with respect to this story.
Secondly, the statement "This changes everything" is based on the expectation that if Google releases a cellphone under its own branding, that it will somehow change everything. However, no one knows how. Previous expectations about a subsidized data plan have turned into expectations that the cellphone will instead by unlocked, compatible with multiple carriers, and several hundred dollars cheaper than one would expect.
While we don't have official confirmation of anything, it seems like there's enough weight to the story that WSJ is going to run an article about it tomorrow. And certainly, if Google had intended to keep it a secret, they could have taken further measures to do so. Handing out a bunch of unlocked phones for free to your increasingly drunk employees at a holiday party is not a way to instill secrecy.
The official word is that Google is handing out the phone to test out software features. The question is whether it is in anticipation of a product for the general public. Didn't Google give out the G1 to its employees before its release? However, if you consider the cost of creating a high-end, unlocked, multiple carrier compatible HTC phone just for a limited run intended for your employees, that's a very expensive gift.
The unsubsidized iPhone 3GS is $699; the manufacturing cost is $179. If Google releases an unlocked, high-end Android phone and distributes them online for $300, that would change the market dynamics in the U.S. It would be a very strategic move on their part, similar to the way in which they bid on wireless spectrum for public use. However, that whole scenario is so far based on concealed sources of information or on pure speculation.

To quote Sorkin, the second phone costs $150. The first cost a billon dollars.
To quote Patrick Norton, that's also when they're produced in China. Otherwise the second would cost $3000.
Google like Apple is public company with a duty to shareholders to turn a profit, and to employees to pay them salaries. ;)
No one owes you or me a cheap phone and low margins haven't done much to make modern computer/electonic companies viable over the long term.

@Rene. C'mon you should know better than that. Televisions are sold at only a 10% profit and gaming consoles are sold at a loss. Last I checked TVs are constantly being made better and better.

It's not about who made it or how they made it. It's about how they market it. There will be all sorts of Google phones just as there will be Windows phones. It's not the same as an iPhone, a Pre or a Droid, which implies one phone. The Google phone is already in the first category because the word "Google" is slapped on all sorts of phones and ads.

@kev
You're just plain wrong here. In order to sustain product business, you typically require at least 50% gross margin. That means take the cost of the phone and multiply it by 2.
Do you have any idea how much it costs to pay electrical engineers, software engineers, marketing people, excecutives? Not to mention taxes, insurance, building costs, etc.
The console business you mentioned does sell the console at or near a loss, but their business model is to sell the gaming software, with the consoles being the channel to sell the software. Copier companies are similar. They will give away the copiers in order to sell the toner and paper.
I really don't believe that televisions are sold at a 10% profit. It just wouldn't be a sustainable business. Cite your sources...
P.S. If you think Apple is getting filthy rich by ripping people off, I suggest you buy some of their stock so you can cash in yourself. They are publicly traded.

Google is moving down in the stack to challenge B2C opponents with an open architecture and new sets of standards. In creating a post-revenue business model, Google can only manage success if consumers accept a co-branding and outsourced manufactured device ... NQ Logic recommends reading the rest of the new Google's mobile strategy at www.nqlogic.com

@Joe. Of course Apple is getting filthy rich. They are way overcharging. How did the 3G drop from 199 to 99 when the 3GS came out? Are they taking a loss on that? I think not.

Oh and Joe all those costs you spoke of are included in the manufacturing costs not the gross margin.

@kev
Nope. You can't include overhead costs in the manufacturing costs. See proper accounting gudelines.

Apple: hardware company which makes software to take advantage of its hardware.
Google: purely software company, more over a general open source endorsing/implementing software company.
I applaud Google for their first foray into the smart phone market.

I guess that means that anything can be the next Google Phone.
That said, I do like the unlocked concept. I hated going to Singapore in October and being stuck with AT&T's international rates on all things while I was there. Would have been great to simply buy a SingTel SIM card, pop it into my phone and use on a prepaid basis without running up huge bills.