Google, one of the Internet's great success stories, today unveiled its Nexus One smart phone -- a product the company hopes will not only challenge Apple's wildly successful iPhone but also keep Google dominant as the Internet spreads from conventional computers to mobile devices.
The sleek little phone -- with a 3.7-inch touch screen, a tiny trackball and a minimum of buttons -- was introduced today at Google's California headquarters. It will sell for $179 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile, or, in a departure from other smart phones, you can buy it "unlocked" for $529. That means you can use it on any cellular network with which it is compatible, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Britain's Vodaphone.
As with the iPhone and other competitors, its ability to make telephone calls is almost beside the point. Google says the Nexus One is a "multipurpose mobile computing device," capable of Internet access, e-mail, digital images, mapping and just about anything else clever programmers can think up.
Google's Erick Tseng today called the Nexus One a "superphone," suggesting it will go beyond what existing handheld devices have been able to do.
It has a GPS locator that allows users to pinpoint their precise locations on Google Maps. It has a 5-megapixel camera, capable of still pictures or video, with flash built in.
If you need to type something a virtual keyboard appears on the screen, but Google says typing is almost unnecessary. The company has been hard at work on Google Voice, a system that it says will understand spoken commands better than others on the market. Tell the phone, "Navigate to pizza," and it will give you a readout, with step-by-step directions, to the closest places that sell it.
The Nexus One runs on version 2.1 of Google's Android software. Android is "open-source," meaning that anyone with programming smarts can design applications for it. An iPhone app, by contrast, must be approved before it can be sold online in Apple's App Store.
Android has been used in other phones, such as Motorola's Droid, but Google says the Nexus One is more versatile.
It may be a cell phone, by the way, but it also receives Wi-Fi signals if you are within range of one.
Today the company showed off numerous features, such as the phone's ability to provide information quickly based on where the GPS locator says it is. (Typically on a laptop or desktop, one has to type in the name of one's town to get local weather.)
The trackball lights up to tell you a message has come in, with different colors to indicate whether it's an e-mail, text message, or part of a chat. The voice-recognition software will transcribe spoken messages if you prefer reading to listening.
The phone will store pictures, music, or other data, and allow one to shuffle through files by flicking a finger against the touch screen. Google says it does not take all the credit for the phone's design; the handset is made by HTC, a Taiwan-based corporation.
Rob Enderle, a technology analyst, gave the new phone a thumbs-up. "It tests as better than either the Droid or the current generation iPhone in terms of display and on-line experience and you can have your choice of carriers," he wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. "Think of this as the anti-iPhone. It shines where the iPhone struggles."
Others were less impressed. "Is this the be-all-end-all Android phone/iPhone eviscerator? In two words: not really," wrote Joshua Topolsky of Engadget, a well-known technology blog.
"The phone is incredibly thin and sleek -- a little thinner than the iPhone -- but it has pretty familiar HTC-style industrial design. It's very handsome, but not blow-you-away good looking. It's a very slim, very pocketable phone, and feels pretty good in your hand."
Google said the phone can be purchased online, starting today, at google.com/phone.
A reporter asked if the Nexus One was an "iPhone killer," and the answer from a Google spokesperson was no, that the message the product sends is aimed at consumers rather than Apple.
"Choice is a really good thing," he said.
Google stock dropped slightly after the announcement today. Apple's stock went down slightly as the hour of Google's announcement approached, but then recovered. Apple is widely reported to be working on a folder-sized tablet device, and bloggers are widely looking at it to revolutionize personal computing -- though Apple has made a point of keeping it under wraps.
Google today said the Nexus One is thinner than a No. 2 pencil and has a processor that runs at 1 gigahertz, making it competitive with the power of many laptop or netbook computers.
Those machines may begin to look clunky if technology goes as many analysts predict. As Google showed off the Nexus One today, it used the slogan, "Web meets phone."