Talk of a possible Google phone kicked up again Friday with new rumors coming out of India that the phone could be launched within two weeks. Rediff.com reported that Google is in talks with two of the three top mobile providers in India, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar, to offer the new "Gphone." The article cites unnamed sources who say the phone will also be launched simultaneously in the U.S. and Europe. The only remaining hurdle in the U.S., the story said, is approval from the Federal Communications Commission, which must certify any wireless device sold in the U.S. Google isn't commenting on the rumors, saying in a statement that the company "is committed to providing users with access to the world's information, and mobile becomes more important to those efforts every day." Before you get too excited and start queuing up somewhere for one of these phones, let me explain why I think the rumors are bogus. For one, Google has never actually confirmed that it's working on building its own handset. Even though it sounds really cool and sexy for the company to pull an "Apple" by building its own hardware, it just doesn't fit into Google's business model, which is to develop software applications for the Web as a way to sell more advertising. Google executives, including Chris Sacca, head of special initiatives at Google, have said publicly that they think there is plenty of competition and innovation in the handset market. "I think there is a healthy environment of competition and innovation in the device market worldwide," Sacca said in an interview with CNET News.com last month. "It's just the channel that discourages that kind of innovation here in the U.S." And just this week, Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, showed off how well Google's applications worked on her iPhone. So I just don't see any reason why Google would want to build an "iPhone-killer." That said, there's no question Google is hot for mobile. The company has introduced several new mobile products this year. And CEO Eric Schmidt recently said the company will likely participate in the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction early in 2008. Exactly what it will do with the spectrum if its wins licenses is unknown. I think what's more likely is that Google is working with a hardware partner to develop a smart phone that's optimized and preloaded with lots of Google applications. My guess is that the supposed prototypes that The Wall Street Journal and others have mentioned in recent articles may be mockups the company has developed with partners to demonstrate and test new applications. So could a Google-powered device made by unknown hardware partners really be ready for launch in two weeks? I think that's probably a little too soon. I checked the FCC Web site Friday and Google has not registered any product to be tested with the FCC. Of course, if Google is working with a partner, as I have suggested above, the phone could be registered in the FCC files under a different company's name. My gut feeling is that these Google-loaded phones will likely be introduced a little later this year and into early next year. But stay tuned. I'll definitely be watching to see how Google's ongoing mobile strategy evolves.
Insulating foam that covers brackets of Discovery's external fuel tank needs to be removed before the shuttle can fly again, NASA said Friday. A new X-ray analysis shows small cracks that probably make the material prone to shedding, officials said. NASA engineers said the foam -- called Super Light-weight Ablative, or SLA -- should be removed from the brackets. The work will take about nine days and is not expected to delay Discovery's next launch, scheduled for October 23. Insulating foam covers a shuttle's external tank to prevent ice from building up when super-cold liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel is pumped into it in the hours before launch. But foam shedding has been a huge problem for NASA in recent years. The agency has been extremely watchful for any damage to the tank or heat shield after the 2003 Columbia disaster, when a suitcase-size piece of foam flew off the shuttle's external tank and cracked a gash in the leading edge of the left wing.