Welcome to Google's Nexus One €“ and the "Nexus" Device


As you may have heard, Google launched a mobile phone yesterday:

we're pleased to announce a new way for consumers to purchase a mobile phone through a Google hosted web store. The goal of this new consumer channel is to provide an efficient way to connect Google's online users with selected Android devices. We also want to make the overall user experience simple: a simple purchasing process, simple service plans from operators, simple and worry-free delivery and start-up.

The first phone we'll be selling through this new web store is the Nexus One — a convergence point for mobile technology, apps and the Internet. Nexus One is an exemplar of what's possible on mobile devices through Android — when cool apps meet a fast, bright and connected computer that fits in your pocket. The Nexus One belongs in the emerging class of devices which we call "superphones." It's the first in what we expect to be a series of products which we will bring to market with our operator and hardware partners and sell through our online store.

Manufactured by HTC, the Nexus One features dynamic noise suppression from Audience, Inc., a large 3.7" OLED display for deep contrast and brilliant colors and a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset for blazing speeds. Running on Android 2.1, the newest version of Eclair, the software includes innovations like a voice-enabled keyboard so you can speak into any text field, fun Live Wallpapers, a 3D photo gallery for richer media experiences and lots more. Of course, it also comes with a host of popular Google applications, including Gmail, Google Voice and Google Maps Navigation.

Google leads with the fact that this is as much about *how* people buy phones, as what that phone is. As many commentators have noted, that's a reflection of Google's long-term plans to break the grip that the current mobile phone companies have on this sector, but it needs to proceeds cautiously, step by step, so as not to frighten the animals – hence the very limited scope of the present announcement.

Only then does Google move on to the new Nexus One, and immediately it emphasises that this is “the first in what we expect to be a series of products”. I think that's why the initial specs of the new phone have disappointed some: it's simply the start of a journey. It doesn't need to be the be-all and end-all, just pointing in the right direction. And Google makes quite clear what that direction is: “ a convergence point for mobile technology, apps and the Internet.”

For me, that is the most important point about the Nexus – it's doubtless why Google chose that name: it views its new phone as a *meeting* point of mobile, computing and the Internet. If true, that's huge, since it represents the long-predicted, and long-awaited convergence of the computing and mobile worlds, with Internet connectivity as a kind of digital glue holding them together. If true, it represents a fundamental shift in how people will use computers and the Internet.

As it happens, I bought my first smartphone a little while before the Google phone rumours began swirling. By a happy coincidence, it was an Android phone (well, clearly I was going to choose one based on Linux), more specifically, the HTC Hero. As well as being made by the same manufacturer as for the Nexus One, the Hero is actually quite close in terms of how it works and what it offers (OK, it lacks the groovy wallpapers, but I think I can live without those.)

What's been interesting for me is that the Hero has, indeed, become a kind of nexus of my mobile, computing and online activities. It's a phone (well, yes), and does all the kind of phone things you would expect. But because it's an Android phone, my Google address book is now tightly integrated, which makes managing my unified phone and email contacts incredibly easy. And because it's all stored in the cloud, I don't need to worry about synchronisation: whatever platform I'm using, everything is sorted out automatically.

The HTC Hero is also an email system. Indeed, it's interesting to note the emails tend to arrive on the Hero before they turn up in my desktop's in-box, and I often find myself taking a quick look on the phone before reading them on my Ubuntu PC or laptop. The HTC Hero is a surprisingly capable device for accessing the Internet, including support for Flash. I hate it, but it's ubiquitous, sadly, so it's indispensable at the moment for online activity. Because Hero ticks that box, I've come across very few sites that I can't view on it, albeit in a restricted view because of the screen size. And since Android is truly multi-tasking, even for downloaded apps, I can pretty work as I do on my desktop machine (with obvious caveats due to the form factor.)

And then there are all the functions that draw on the fact that this is a mobile device, with a variable geographical location. Aside from handy things like your position on Google Maps, there are trendy augmented reality apps like Layar that represent a new way of melding your visible surroundings with online information relating to them.

In a word, I've found my approximation to the Nexus One truly eye-opening in terms of how it goes well beyond the desktop/laptop PC, mobile or Internet in combining them into a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts – and yet all crammed into something that now habitually sits in my trouser pocket.

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