Unless you're living the hermit life under a rock, you have heard that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is just about ready to launch a Google Phone to rival the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone. You've seen pictures, read some specs, and maybe even heard about a release date.
Don't get me wrong -- there is a Google phone, lacking any branding other than Google and Android. It's an unlocked device running on snazzy hardware, and probably made by Taiwanese handset wrangler HTC. Big G gave out these phones to its own employees recently, which is why the gadget pops up in spurious photos, blog posts, and Web server traffic logs.
But this device is not a retail product, and Google is not about to launch a marketing offensive that puts Verizon's (NYSE: VZ ) campaign for the Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) Droid to shame. The official word is that this new phone is an internal tool, distributed among Google employees to form a "mobile lab." Its purpose is to give Android engineers a walled garden or sandbox in which to test new ideas before making them available to the general public.
The hardware and software features you see in those leaked shots may or may not ever make it to market. You might be able to scrounge up an actual Google Phone through online auctions and such, but even that isn't bloody likely. For all we know, selling one might be a capital offense in Mountain View. Google can track these devices by serial number, possibly putting the seller's job at risk for trading in business secrets.
Android is doing just fine with a slew of hardware partners around the globe, and I don't expect to see the dream of an official Google Phone become a retail reality in the next few years -- if ever. It's just a development tool worthy of a Rule Breaker.
Care to disagree? Let the flame wars begin in the comments below.