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Rumors have begun to swirl that Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) is planning to release a new smartphone code-named "X Phone." The new device, which is expected to be a full collaboration between Google and the remnants of Motorola, which is now a Google subsidiary, has spurned widespread speculation about not only the specifics of the phone, but how its release will position Google, Motorola, and the entire Nexus brand. Despite the lack of details, there is a general consensus that the device will incorporate enough features and simplicity to place the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) iPhone directly in its crosshairs. Of course, the once-called G Phone, which morphed into the Nexus One at release, was not the iPhone killer it promised to be. Regardless of the specifics, consumers and investors alike will do well to prepare for the arrival of the newest thing from Google.
The branding question
With so many brands floating around in this space, the decision on how this new device is branded may be more critical than you realize. Currently, we have Google with its Nexus brand and we have Motorola with its Droid and Razr brands. The new device is being called the "Google X Phone" and the "Google/Motorola X Phone" in various places, but speculation about the Nexus and Droid names are circulating as well.
While the name of the device seems like it would be one of the less important features to worry about, it is easy to forget in the realm of high-end smartphones, image can be as important as anything. At the risk of inflaming the Apple nation, the "cool factor" was the only compelling reason for anyone to break a service agreement to upgrade early from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5.
Both the Droid and Nexus names have already become associated with certain distinct product types that carry with them a sense of the device. The look, feel, and features expectations of the device are captured in the name. It's possible Google's new project has been given the X moniker so that you will need to check it out before making any choice.
In one of the more interesting bits of speculation in circulation, Clinton Stark offered up three possible scenarios for the Google X Phone. Under the first option, Google creates a new, streamlined device that runs a pure form of Android. The new device would represent a step toward vertical integration similar to the paradigm used by Apple. Google would control the device, the ecosystem, and the OS, allowing it to tighten up what it does with Android beyond its own products. There is some logic to this approach, in that Google has done very little with Motorola, but the global appeal of Android might make this more costly than strategic.
Under the second option, Google would release the X Phone as a streamlined, user-friendly iPhone killer and reserve the Nexus brand for the "technorati." This seems like a more probable option, as scrapping the success the company has built to date would be unnecessary. There is definitely a contingent that would love to see a Motorola-quality piece of hardware that utilized a cleaner, pure version on Android. This could be the new genius of the X Phone, but it is too early to tell.
The final option is that the X Phone launches without any other changes going into place. In the smartphone wars, there is always room for one more, but a real concern for Google is that it is hyping the new entry so much, and planning on jamming so much tech into it, that it will be impossible to deliver. It is hard to imagine that the amount of planning and preparation that is under way for a serious new product launch would so unceremoniously be allowed to languish in limbo, but that was essentially what happened on the initial launch of the Nexus One.
While it is too early to make a real assessment of the disruptive force represented by the new device, I think the market itself may become the "iPhone killer" in the sense that alternatives are on the rise. The Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) Lumia Series that runs on Windows sold 4.4 million units last quarter, followed by 2.9 million the quarter before. The company also recently landed a contract with China's largest wireless carrier and has placed itself squarely in the conversation as a real player again. Just a few months ago, there was serious concern over Nokia's viability.
Also trying to run down the rebound trail is Research In Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY ) , which recently announced that it will unveil the BlackBerry 10 at the end of January. RIM has not reached Nokia's level of relevance yet, but initial reviews of its new OS look solid and many, myself included, are excited to see how the BB10 fares when it is released. This is do-or-die time for RIM, which once was the only legitimate name in smartphones -- a return to the field would serve consumers well.
The takeaway is that whether the X Phone kills or flops, technology is advancing in such a way that it is much harder to name a single King of the Smartphones. Rather, there are several that appeal to different audiences and perform different tasks better than others. With that in mind, despite all of Apple's recent issues, it does not need to be on top to be hugely successful. The X Phone may blow us all away, but more likely it will be another impressive device to consider.
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