Google Unveils Nexus One Smartphone

Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, holds the Google Nexus One phone during a news conference at Google headquarters Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010, in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Robert Galbraith, POOL)
AP Photo/Robert Galbraith
You've read all the exhaustive coverage of Google's Nexus One phone over the last month. The Android-based device emerged at a company holiday party and has been the talk of the smartphone industry ever since. And at an event here at its headquarters on Tuesday, Google unveiled the Nexus One and announced a plan to sell it directly to consumers. The following is a live blog from the event.

9:52 a.m.: We're awaiting the start of Google's Android event here in Building 43 at Google's headquarters in Mountain View. The event is expected to start in about 10 minutes, and the requisite pounding get-excited music is blaring inside a large conference room. There's maybe 100 people crammed into the room, and Google executives Vic Gundotra and Andy Rubin have already been spotted.

10:06 a.m.: Mike Nelson, a PR representative for Google, kicks things off by promising a series of short presentations. Mario Quedas of Google has been leading Google's efforts in this area, and he starts off the presentation.

10:07 a.m.: Mario reviews the development of the Open Handset Alliance, which was launched in 2007 along with the introduction of the Android software. Thirteen additional members have joined the OHA as of Tuesday, he said, including China Telecom and Freescale. Next came the first Google phone in 2008, the G1 on T-Mobile's network.

10:09 a.m.: Shortly after that came out, the OHA wanted to get a thinner device than the G1, which had a funky hinged keyboard. The result was the MyTouch3G, but Google wasn't satisfied, Mario said. The company decided to work on the performance of the Android platform and added CDMA support to be compatible with carriers like Verizon or Sprint. The Droid was the result of that effort.

b>10:15 a.m.: Indeed, the second shot was next: Android was designed to be an open platform with an open marketplace. Anyone who has followed the development of the iPhone knows that Apple's App Store is somewhat less than open.

10:17 a.m.: Now, for the next step in Android's evolution. Many of the devices discussed before were developed in concert with partners, with Google donating engineering talents. "But we want to continue to do more. One of the questions we asked ourselves a while ago was, 'what if we worked more closely with partners to bring devices to market to showcase the great software technology we're working on at Google?'"

"And we've done that," Quieroz said. "Today we're announcing the Nexus One."

10:18 a.m.: The phone's name is no surprise to anyone who has been reading tech news over the past month. Quieroz calls it a "super phone."

Google plans to demonstrate the phone later today. The phone was designed in close partnership with HTC, Queiroz said. He brings up Peter Chou, the CEO of HTC, to talk about how the phone was developed.

(AP Photo/Robert Galbraith)
(Members of the media watch demos of the Nexus One phone's photo application during the news conference at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.)

10:20 a.m.: Chou starts off by remembering two years ago when Google announced the Android platform with HTC and others. HTC made the G1, the first Android phone, and with the Nexus One has developed seven Android phones.

10:22 a.m.: The phone has a 3.7-inch AMOLED display, and a fast processor. "It pushes forward what phones are capable of today," Chou said. He steps away from the stage and Queiroz comes back on.

10:32 a.m.: Now we're going to dive into the software of the device. Erick Tseng, senior product manager for the project, is going to lead the demonstrations. But first, the hardware.

10:25 a.m.: As Chou explained, it has a 3.7-inch AMOLED display. The processor is Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor running at 1GHz. The trackball on the device is both a trackball for navigation and a notification LED: when you get an e-mail, it will pulse. Same thing for phone calls. And the phone has both a light sensor and a proximity sensor, along with a compass, GPS, and accelerometer.

10:28 a.m.: The phone is 11.5 millimeters thick and weighs 130 grams. That's about as thick as a pencil and weighs as much as a small Swiss Army knife. It has a 5-megapixel camera with a flash, and can take video, with one-click uploads to YouTube. The Nexus One has stereo Bluetooth and the standard headphone jack. It also has a first for Android: noise cancellation features. Google calls it "active noise suppression."

10:29 a.m.: Google's brand is prominently displayed on the back of the phone, with a much smaller HTC brand at the bottom. You can also personally engrave your own message in a little silver band on the back.

10:30 a.m.: Now for the software on the phone, which could be the key differentiator for the Nexus One against other Android phones. However, on a base level, it's running Android 2.1, the latest OS version that is also running on the Droid. That means it has the Google Maps for Navigation Apps and easy Facebook connections, same as the Droid.

10:32 a.m.: Of course, there are new things that appear to be exclusive to the Nexus One, at least for now. The home screen can currently be personalized with widgets, and Google has added new home screen panels, up to five, that allow you to add shortcuts onto the screen. You can flick the screen left or right to move to the new screen. Google developed a News and Weather widget for the phone, with interesting additions such as temperature predictions for upcoming hours of the day.

10:34 a.m.: The Nexus One has something called Live Wallpapers. That's the background image behind the home screen, and the Nexus One can let you set moving images behind the applications and widgets on the home screen. Tseng demonstrates how you can tap the moving image of a pond to actually create your own ripples in the water.

10:38 a.m.: One theme for the Nexus One is media. "What you really have is a mini computer sitting in your pocket, and we wanted to push the 3D capabilities of these chipsets to their limits." Photos and videos stored in the phone can be stored in a new gallery application, which lets you organize and view photos in 3D: tipping the phone triggers the accelerometer to "dip" the photos, so they appear to be on a 3D angle. Photos are also organized around the day they were taken.

10:40 a.m.: The new feature they are going to highlight is around voice. Voice recognition is getting better and better, Tseng said, and Google wanted to make Android's voice recognition better with this phone. Google offers search by voice and voice commands on advanced Android phones like the Droid already. The new feature is the ability to use speech to enter text into every text field in the device using your voice.

10:42 a.m.: Tseng demonstrates Gmail dictation. He records a short demonstration that accurately translates the speech into the correct text. There's another application that's coming up soon but hasn't been released in the Android Market: Google Earth for Android.

10:44 a.m.: This application looks just like the regular Google Earth application on the desktop. The 3D capabilities of this phone make that possible, and you can also use the voice features in Google Earth, searching for things like "Mount Fuji."

10:45 a.m.: Queiroz comes back on the stage. "Nexus One belongs in a class of device that we call super phones." Google is planning a series of devices, he says. "Today, we're also pleased to announce a new way for consumers to purchase a mobile phone: through a Google-hosted Web store." He calls it Google's new consumer channel, and it's designed to make it easier to buy a phone.

10:47 a.m.: Phones can be bought without service or with service from an operator partner, he says. Phones bought with service will be comparable to high-end phones in the market. The Nexus One will be available today at with the option of T-Mobile's service.

10:48 a.m.: Verizon and Vodafone have also agreed to join the program (Vodafone owns part of Verizon Wireless).

10:50 a.m.: Queiroz takes us through screenshots of the store. Potential customers can get demos of various Nexus One applications within the store, and take a 3D tour. The phone will be available for $529 without service, and $179 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile. The prices aren't yet available for Verizon Wireless or Vodafone yet. All of this can be done from your PC; you won't have to go into T-Mobile's store.

10:52 a.m.: Verizon and Vodafone are on track to participate by spring 2010, Queiroz said. He selects the phone without a service plan, and goes through the checkout process. You'll need a Google Account and a Google Checkout account to buy the Nexus One. At the moment, the site won't let you buy a phone with service contracts from T-Mobile, but it's not clear if that is a temporary glitch.

10:53 a.m.: The Web store is being launched in the U.S., but phones can be shipped to the U.K., Singapore, and Hong Kong. Google wants to add other operators and other devices to the effort over time, he said.

10:56 a.m.: Queiroz recaps the day's announcements as a video plays, and we'll soon head into Q&A.

(AP Photo/Robert Galbraith)
(Peter Chou, CEO of HTC, holds the Google Nexus One phone.)

10:58 a.m.: The Q&A will feature Andy Rubin, Peter Chou of HTC, Queiroz, and eventually Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha: he's apparently stuck in traffic.

The first question is why application storage is somewhat limited. Rubin says the company included an SD card for unlimited storage, essentially, but the internal storage is apparently only 512MBs.

11:01 a.m.: The BBC asks directly for an iPhone shot. Rubin says the message is more for consumers, in that it's an open phone with choice. Chou calls it one of the best phones out there.

11:03 a.m.: Ken Dulaney of Gartner wants to know if Google or HTC will store inventory, and how Google plans to market the phone against the seemingly endless number of iPhone ads. Queiroz says Google is the provider of record, and you are purchasing the phone directly from Google, but he won't comment on the exact supply chain setup. The marketing for the phone, he says, is initially online, rather than regular TV ads.

10:04 a.m.: PCWorld wants to know more about Google's role, wondering why Google had to design the phone rather than being an HTC phone designed by HTC. Also, will the Droid get the new features? Rubin said it's inaccurate to say that Google designed the phone: Google is just merchandising it on the store, similar to any retailer, and HTC designed the phone. Google plans to open-source the software, so it will show up on other phones shortly.

11:05 a.m.: Another question concerns whether or not people will want to spend over $500 on a phone: unlocked phones haven't done well in the U.S. Queiroz said that it's pretty early days yet for these phones, and that people will have more choices in the future through different carriers and different devices.

11:07 a.m.: Wired asks how Google plans to combat the fact that it's not known as a retailer. Queiroz says that Google doesn't want to focus on retailing, wanting everyone to focus on the fact that this is a complete solution; artfully dodging the question. "It's another channel, it's not intended to be a channel that's going to replace other channels."

11:09 a.m.: Investor's Business Daily wants to know the revenue model for Google. Rubin says that Google's primary business, of course, is advertising. This phone is looking more like a laptop from five years ago, making it a phone that is good for Internet access, funneling people back into ads, he said. There is some opportunity to make margin on the unit sales, but that's not what Google is trying to do here, Rubin said. "This is the best possible Google experience," he said.

11:10 a.m.: Sam Diaz from our sister site ZDNet wants to know about tethering, and it sounds like that's not going to be available at first blush but is being considered down the line. Tethering often tends to be a carrier issue rather than a phone issue.

11:13 a.m.: The Guardian asks whether Google believes in a physical keyboard, since they're calling this their best phone and it doesn't have one. Also, will Google sell other products? Chou said that HTC believes people prefer different form factors, and so it produces products with many different types of hardware. Still, he said it's the best touch-screen keyboard experience that HTC has yet produced.

11:15 a.m.: Queiroz reminds us that more phones will emerge as part of the Nexus One platform, and that if people really want hardware keyboards, Google isn't married to the touch-screen keyboard design. As for other products, he says Google will consider adding other mobile phones to the store, and declines to comment on whether or not Google has other products in mind.

11:16 a.m.: Rubin says that Google will carefully select which Android phones get placed into this program, saying that the company will apply a bar to the phone's experience that manufacturers will have to meet.

11:19 a.m.: Engadget wonders about multitouch. HTC's Droid Eris supports multitouch in the U.S., and Rubin says Google will consider multitouch for the Nexus One in the future. The question was hinting at whether patent considerations are holding back the use of multitouch in the U.S., and Google didn't take the bait.

11:20 a.m.: Techcrunch wants to know about integration with Google Voice, and how people should think about buying Nexus One phones if new ones are always coming along. Queiroz says "you'll have to wait for a long time" if you want to wait for the next Nexus One, but also says that technology moves very quickly.

11:24 a.m.: Someone asks why Google hasn't taken a revolutionary step forward with this phone, both in terms of features and pricing structures. Rubin says the pricing plans aren't boring, but emphasizes that before you can revolutionize the world with new business models, you have to be in the game itself. That's the idea behind the store, he says, to get up and running and then figure out what to do next.

11:25 a.m.: Forrester Research wants to know if Nexus One phones will actually show up in physical stores. Queiroz says that Google wanted to remain "pure and simple" at first, marketing it in an online-only way and selling it through a Web store.

11:27 a.m.: Sanjay Jha has finally shown up, and he says that his company is working on dual GSM/CDMA mode phones, which would allow you to have a phone that works on both Verizon and AT&T in the U.S., for example.

11:29 a.m.: eWeek wants to know how the Nexus One will affect sales of the Droid. Jha says that Motorola will upgrade the Droid to the new software features in due time, and that HTC and Motorola are, of course, competitors, and will continue compete.

11:31 a.m.: MocoNews wants to know about whether the direct to consumer channel will bother Google's partners. Jha says they look at this as just another channel, seeing it as just another way of getting to consumers and allowing them to get their hands on the phones. Chou agrees, saying that different companies need to innovate to drive the whole market forward.

11:35 a.m.: Also, advertising on TV costs a lot of money, Rubin says. That shows up in increased device prices and increased plan prices, he says. That means that Google can potentially lower the prices of phones and plans over time because they don't have the same overhead. As for the carriers, Queiroz notes that T-Mobile and Verizon are on board with the program.

11:40 a.m.: It doesn't appear that the CDMA version of the Nexus One phone will be sold unlocked, but it's unclear.

11:42 a.m.: Another question concerns Google Voice, and whether or not Google will try to keep things to itself. Rubin says that this is not about trying to "advantage" the company over another platform, and the software is released as open source.

11:43 a.m.: And finally, Rubin addresses why Google is now selling its own phone, months after Rubin said the company wasn't working on its own hardware. He walks a fine line, pointing out that HTC is actually making the hardware here, but declining to address the issue that Google is now offering a competitive distribution model to that of its carrier partners. Of course, Google is selling plans for those partners, but carriers like in-store distribution for a reason.

11:43 a.m.: That wraps up the event. Stay tuned for more coverage of the event, including a hands-on with the Nexus One phone, pictures, and videos. Thanks for being with us today.

(Google certainly didn't waste any time getting an advertisement together.)

By Tom Krazit