Locative Lab

researching locative media

The future for Orange could soon be Google in your pocket

Google is on the move. The internet giant has held talks with Orange, the
mobile phone operator, about a multi-billion-dollar partnership to
create a ‘Google phone’ which makes it easy to search the web wherever
you are. The collaboration between two of the most powerful brands in
technology is seen as a potential catalyst for making internet use of
mobile phones as natural as on desktop computers and laptops.

Executives from Orange flew to Silicon Valley in California for a meeting at
Google’s headquarters, or ‘Googleplex’, to hold preliminary discussions
about a joint deal. The companies believe that they have an affinity as
brands that are perceived as both ‘positive’ and ‘innovative’.

Their plans centre on a branded Google phone, which would probably also
carry Orange’s logo. The device would not be revolutionary:
manufactured by HTC, a Taiwanese firm specialising in smart phones and
Personal Data Assistants (PDAs), it might have a screen similar to a
video iPod. But it would have built-in Google software which would
dramatically improve on the slow and cumbersome experience of surfing
the web from a mobile handset.

A source close to the talks told The Observer: ‘Google are software
experts and are doing some amazing work compressing data so that the
mobile user gets a much better experience. They don’t know so much
about mobiles, but they are eager to learn from Orange’s years of

Among the potential benefits are location-based searches: aware of your
handset’s geographical position, Google could
offer a tailored list of local cinemas, restaurants and other
amenities, and maps and images from Google Earth. It is believed that
the Google phone would not go on sale before 2008.

Google value the expertise of Orange, which is owned by France Telecom, Europe’s
second-largest telecoms group. A joint deal could be highly lucrative.
Google recently became Silicon Valley’s most valuable business at
£81bn, although it still has a long way to go to eclipse the
Seattle-based Microsoft. France Telecom has had a rockier spell, but
this year announced sales of £33bn.

Tony Cooper, a telecoms consultant at Deloitte, said: ‘There are numerous situations in which
people say “I wish I had Google in my hand”, and I can imagine the
younger generation of users would think that a Google phone is a cool
idea. It could bring in location-based searches like “Find a Thai
restaurant in my area”.’

He added: ‘It has a potential to be a success, and to offer commercial success for both companies,
particularly if Orange can link it to its broadband offering. If I was
Orange, I’d want to get a share of the ad click-through revenues; if I
was Google, I’d want a share of the airtime revenue. The potential
stumbling block is if it’s clunky and hard to use.’

Google already offers its search engine and other services on mobile phones.
It has a partnership with Vodafone and last month announced a broadband
agreement with the operator 3. It is working to make youTube, the
video-sharing site it bought recently for £870m, easily accessible on
handsets. But it is eager to expand in what experts see as a huge
potential market, possibly the key to the future of the internet.

Manufacturers such as Nokia and Motorola are working to make the mobile internet
commonplace. Earlier this year Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice-president
of Nokia, said at a product show in New York: ‘In the mid-Nineties I
said that if you don’t have a mobile phone you will be making a
declaration that you wanted to be outside organised society. People
said I was crazy, but now everybody has a mobile phone. Today I’m
saying that in 10 years’ time the same will be true if you don’t have
the full internet in your pocket.

A spokesman for Google said:’We don’t comment on market speculation and rumour, but we are focused
on mobile and there’s nothing new in our commitment to that space.’ Orange declined to comment.



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Cityscape LocativeLab.org is Ronald Lenz's research website on locative & mobile media. This is mostly an archive of blogposts I find inspiring and interesting and an overview of my work. I'm a strategist, technologist and researcher in the field of Location-Based Mobile Services and work at Waag Society, a medialab in Amsterdam, The Netherlands where I head the Locative Media research program and at 7scenes, a platform for GPS games and tours as creative director. Picture 4 Find me at Twitter, LinkedIn or via ronald [at] waag [dot] org.

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