Google Becomes a Hardware Company

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Even if Apple ( AAPL) earnings are better than expected when they're announced later this month, the stock will likely remain under pressure.

That's thanks to Google ( GOOG), which is finally ready to get serious about hardware.

A year after buying Motorola Mobility, Google is finally ready to transfer its hardware "flag" from foreign makes to its own.

Google has been trying to unify its open source Android operating environment since 2010 with a series of phones under the Nexus name that offer what it considers the latest-and-greatest Android experience.

The first such phone was made by HTC, the next two by Samsung, and the latest (which I own) by LG. Once each new Nexus is released, the older models are discontinued, as this Wikipedia chart shows.

The Nexus 4 has been sold on Google's Play site since late last year, and is currently at a clearance price of $299, unlocked.

Unlocked means you can buy the phone, take it to any carrier, get a Subscriber Identity Module or SIM card, then start making calls without the need for a contract, or extending an existing contract. Discounts on phones, even "free" phones with carriers, are a great racket, because they lock in thousands of dollars worth of service over years for a few hundred dollars up-front.

Google has spent a year remaking Motorola, which many thought it bought for its patents. It pared the product line to the bone, laid off lots of people, put Googlers at the top of the executive heap, and designed the Moto X, which is expected to launch next month in North America.

A Canadian video about the device, leaked to Derek Ross of Android Authority and now on YouTube , shows the phone in a non-stop "listen" mode, even when off, allowing it to respond to voice commands, along with a camera that opens with two wrist flicks and can take pictures with a tap anywhere on the screen.

The launch will come just as Samsung, an Android supplier, has overtaken Apple to become the undisputed king of smartphones, even in terms of Web usage, writes 9to5 Google. Google is planning a marketing budget of $500 million for the phone, according to the same Web site, which is bigger than the product marketing budget of either Samsung or Apple.

The phone will come in a variety of colors, it can be customized with a user's own photo as its "wallpaper" screen and it can carry an etched identity on the back. The phone will be assembled in the U.S. The phone will also be priced aggressively, with the highest estimate being $599 without a contract, $199 with one. It is also expected to be delivered through all four major carriers simultaneously.

Market research firm IDC estimated the global smartphone market at 216.3 million units in just the first quarter of this year with Samsung, an Android label, having 37% of it, more than twice Apple's share.

Getting Motorola significant share in that market will have to take sales away from both Samsung and Apple -- lots of sales. The "Samsung-compatible" Moto X will come with new features, a low price and a huge marketing budget.

Google is about to give the smartphone market a major shake-up, resulting in a major shakeout.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and GOOG.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a tech reporter since 1982. His specialty has been getting to the future ahead of the crowd, then leaving before success arrived. That meant covering the Internet in 1985, e-commerce in 1994, the Internet of Things in 2005, open source in 2005 and, since 2010, renewable energy. He has written for every medium from newspapers and magazines to Web sites, from books to blogs. He still seeks tomorrow from his Craftsman home in Atlanta.

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