plans to reinvent the cell phone in its own image.
announcement Monday of a mobile-phone software kit, while not the "Gphone" handset that many expected, heralds a new breed of Internet-connected wireless phones.
Google gave chipmakers a prominent role in its revolution, with a handful of semiconductor firms listed among the founding partners of the Open Handset Alliance, the consortium that will develop its Android cell-phone software.
So far, though, the silicon side of the story isn't finding much of an audience on the Street.
, for instance, was front and center in the announcement, with CEO Paul Jacobs participating in the media conference call.
Yet Qualcomm's stock fell 1.2% on Monday to $40.85.
Compare that to the months leading up to the release of Apple's iPhone, when investors piled into any chipmaker suspected of supplying the gadget's innards --
popped with every report that linked the companies to the iPhone.
According to Stifel Nicolaus chip analyst Cody Acree, the details about Google's phone plans are still too nascent and uncertain to provide investors with a clear earnings link to any chip companies.
"It's much too early for investors to be taking positions and making solid bets, because this could go in many different directions," he says.
One key question is whether the advent of Google-based phones has the potential to broaden the size of the cell-phone market, creating more opportunity for chipmakers, or if it will merely supplant the existing market.
"If you're Qualcomm and you were selling into phone A, and now you're going into a Google phone in phone B, it's a net push," says Acree.
And while many of the companies involved in Monday's announcement promised to have Google-powered handsets available by the second half of 2008, there were no details about pricing or initial unit-volume targets.
Smartphones have traditionally occupied a niche in the overall cell-phone handset market. That said, the intersection of sexy, online capabilities and mass appeal in a Google-powered phone could accelerate the rate at which high-end phone functions move downstream into more affordable handsets.
Participants in Monday's conference call were vague about what exactly a Google-powered phone might look like, noting that devices will be available in various iterations, with large screens and small screens, keyboards and touchscreens.
And while a 200 MHz Arm 9 processor was cited as the only minimum hardware requirement, the list of Google's partners offers some tantalizing clues about the forthcoming phones and the potential winners in the chip business.
Google's strong bent on mapping and location-based services, for instance, suggest the phone would likely pack a GPS receiver, a type of chip made by companies like
Sirf Technology Holdings
and Qualcomm, both of which are members of Google's phone alliance.
A high-throughput Internet connection would also make sense, which brings to mind Wi-Fi suppliers Marvell and Broadcom, also among the initial backers of Google's phone plan. And powerful graphics acceleration and application processing, products made by
, were also on the list.
The role of flash memory chips presents a more intriguing question.
Apple's iPhone was great news for flash memory makers: The device packs 8 gigabytes of NAND flash for storing music and videos, and capacity seems likely to continue increasing in future versions.
But Apple and Google represent two different generations of tech companies, each imagining the cell phone from their own unique perspective.
Apple's NAND-packed iPhone reflects its origins as a PC company, in which data is traditionally stored locally, on the machine itself.
In the Google worldview, on the other hand, personal data -- from email to YouTube videos -- is stored away from the device, on the Internet "cloud."
It's unlikely that future cell phones would do away with flash memory entirely. But it's not hard to imagine that handsets developed from the ground up to interact with Google's set of online services could have much less need for beefy, and ever-increasing, banks of on-board flash memory.
As Google moves forward with its plans to conquer the cell-phone market, chip investors may find the move creates a new set of winners -- and losers.