Stage set for Google-Apple mobile duel

Google will start the new year with a mobile product announcement, setting the stage for what is turning into a showdown with its former ally Apple over mobile computing devices.

The search group revealed earlier this month that it had issued employees with a mobile device to test, though it did not give details.

On Tuesday it disclosed that it would hold an event at its headquarters in Silicon Valley next Tuesday for a mobile announcement, prompting speculation that the device would be unveiled.

The prospect of the first mobile handset in which Google has had a strong hand in the design has caused intense interest in tech circles amid expectations that Apple will also announce its first larger-screen mobile tablet device next month.

Apple is planning to make a product announcement of its own in San Francisco late in January, the Financial Times reported last week.

There was “almost a land grab going on” among device makers as they vied to be the “gatekeeper” for the latest generation of internet services, said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Northeast Securities who was among the first to report that Google was planning its own gadget.

By announcing a Google phone ahead of Apple’s tablet, the internet company had a chance to steal its rival’s thunder and build a following for its first Google-branded consumer device, Mr Kumar said.

However, some analysts warned that if it created a rival gadget, Google would alienate other mobile handset makers that have used its Android mobile operating system in their own products.

“If they’re doing their own phone, it’s really a dumb idea,” Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said.

Rather than produce its own phone, Google was more likely to put its name on the device and have influence over its software, Mr Delaney said.

The test, he said, would be whether it took control of the handset inventory, making it the effective producer, or whether it left that with HTC, which is reported to be manufacturing the device.

Smartphones based on Google’s open-source Android software, which first appeared 14 months ago, have emerged as some of the strongest challengers to Apple’s iPhone.

Mr Kumar warned that unless Google controlled all the elements of a handset, from the hardware design to the user interface, it was unlikely to be able to produce as distinctive a product as the iPhone, and risked losing more ground to Apple.

Unlike Microsoft, which sells a version of Windows for smartphones, Google does not charge for the use of Android and so would not jeopardise any commercial relationships by selling its own handset.

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