What? Another new smartphone?

Google's phones look nifty, but they'll have a hard time at first getting into the government market.

What a coincidence. The same week the White House-appointed mobile services category team promises a new federal mobile strategy by the end of the month, Google comes out with a whole new phone.

Actually two phones, big and bigger.  The smaller, five-inch model, at $650, shows Google isn’t trying to compete with the iPhone on price. Except that if you trade in an iPhone for a Google Pixel you get a $300 discount. And a phone with a regular jack.

$650 — that’s about what a Model T cost in 1916. When most people still moved on foot, horse or streetcar, that which promised greater mobility would be a hit.

Whether the world needs another phone that, at first look, is barely distinguishable from existing smartphones — that’s another question. My first question, though, is what kind of tech support Google will have. Google is an advertising company that gives away its software products to ad recipients. In selling branded hardware, it will have to have real tech support for users. I’ve said this before, but as a Gmail or Google Docs user, you are not Google’s customer.  Unlike Apple and Samsung, the company isn’t oriented towards hardware product support.

Google is trying to compete on two fronts. It’s plowing in with its own phone, trying to distinguish it from the others. Its edited video event recap (which looks smaller than the thousands cramming the Bill Graham Civic Center for the iPhone 7) emphasizes the camera (with “no unsightly camera bump” and other smartphone features. But the company is also trying to gin up a new, post-mobility era in computing centered on artificial intelligence. There’s a virtual reality headset to watch videos. There’s voice-controlled home automation.

For the federal market, Google is an enterprise — that is, paid — email and cloud services contractor. Its phones will have two routes into the government: BYOD and through carriers Verizon and Nextel contracts. Federal users tend to be a conservative bunch. Only now are the last few Blackberry devices disappearing. From my observations, Apple and Android — principally Samsung — devices prevail. They won’t be easy to dislodge.

Here’s another reason: Both the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy have well-developed security products to make the phone usable with sensitive or classified data. It will take time for the Google phone to get there. That it uses a Snapdragon processor and runs Android will mitigate that time.

Jon Johnson, the mobility policy guy at the General Services Administration, and the leader of the interagency mobile services category team, is working to consolidate voice and data plans and persuade agencies to avoid buying what they don’t really need. The nifty new Google phone, actually manufactured by HTC, will initially be a tough sell for federal use.

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