Google's next Nexus phone aims at business?

Next in the Android 'superphone' range to be an enterprise device, says Google exec Andy Rubin...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Next in the Android 'superphone' range to be an enterprise device, says Google exec Andy Rubin...

Google has hinted that business users could be the target for the next in the series of its Android-powered Nexus 'superphones' - But that doesn't mean Nokia, RIM and Apple should worry - just yet.

The touchscreen Nexus One launched last week. Described as a 'superphone' by Google, it runs the latest iteration of the Android OS and is being sold direct to consumers via a Google-hosted web store.

Speaking in an interview with the Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital's Walt Mossberg on Friday, Andy Rubin, Google's VP of engineering, discussed this strategy shift into direct retailing, explaining Google's intention is to simplify the phone-buying process by reducing confusion associated with multiple tariffs. The Nexus One (pictured below) is currently available on a single T-Mobile US tariff when purchased on an operator contract. It's also available SIM free.

Google Nexus One

The consumer-focused Nexus One smartphone - but is Google eyeing business users as well?
(Photo credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)

Rubin added that the web store gives Google the flexibility to "iterate on the internet". "We can change [what's offered on the web store] as rapidly as updating a website," he told Mossberg, before seemingly suggesting that an enterprise version of the Nexus could be next on Google's mobile roadmap.

"All I have to do [to change what's offered on the web store] is negotiate with the T-Mobile guys and say 'OK guys we're ready for more advanced plans', or 'we're going to go and offer the next version of the Nexus series - which is an enterprise device - which plan is appropriate for an enterprise device?'"

Google refused to confirm whether it is working on an enterprise version of the Nexus device, and a spokesman told silicon.com: "We're not saying anything beyond Andy's comments for the time being."

But asked by WSJ's Mossberg what he meant by "enterprise device" - as the Nexus One already supports Microsoft Exchange - Rubin suggested Google would be looking to tweak the hardware to better meet the needs of business users.

"An enterprise version of the device might be more appropriate for somebody that is a super emailer," said Rubin. "So it might have a physical keyboard on the front, something like that, it might have different characteristics for battery life, it might be a world phone for the traveller."

Pressed further, Rubin confirmed this would mean modified hardware, not merely a software iteration. "It's another SKU," he said.

In the interview, Rubin also described cloud computing as a "big opportunity", noting Google already sells cloud apps such as Gmail to business. "The definition of enterprise I think is moving around a bit these days," he added.

So does this mean existing enterprise handset players - such as Nokia, or RIM with its BlackBerry, or manufacturers shipping Windows Mobile devices - should be looking over their shoulder?

Jeremy Green, practice leader for mobile at analyst Ovum, told silicon.com Google is unlikely to transform itself into a purveyor of BlackBerry-style enterprise-grade hardware.

"When they talk about an enterprise device I think to a large extent they are thinking about a prosumer device," said Green. "Something that's aimed at a business user who might drive this quite hard and do some quite clever things with it but it's not an enterprise-grade, linked-in-to-the -company-IT-system sort of enterprise device."

Why might Google be keen to cater to prosumers? It's a quirk of culture, according to Green who said use of a personal smartphone for work is much more common outside Europe - which he described as the "heart of company-provided phones".

"In both North America and in Asia it's much more common to get your own device and expense [work usage] back," he said. So ensuring it has a business-friendly device or two in its Nexus range could be a way for Google to avoid limiting the device's potential market, according to Green - who also pointed out that the price of the Nexus makes it, by default, a product targeted at people who work in enterprises.

"There are lots of high end professionals working in enterprises who use iPhones and all sorts of other flash phones. And in that sense [a Nexus device is] perfectly placed to compete. But it's not an enterprise device in the sense that it's something that enterprises can manage and put policies on and control - in the way that they can say with BlackBerrys," Green added.

"The Android platform would need to have an awful lot of stuff that nobody's bothered to put in it yet."

Even if Google worked to upgrade Android to meet corporate standards, Green said they would face an uphill battle to convince businesses the platform had been made robust enough for them to manage. He said: "[Businesses are] all paranoid about security and about user abuse and users putting things on that the enterprise doesn't want on their enterprise devices."

Asked whether BlackBerry should be concerned by Google's interest in the enterprise, however tokenistic, Green said: "When Google does stuff it's a bad idea to be complacent about it but it doesn't look to me like they're anywhere near crossing onto BlackBerry's turf at the moment and having a proper, managed enterprise device."

"Thus far they do very little behind the firewall," he added.

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