Verizon Wireless is working on a tablet computer with Google, according to the mobile operator's CEO, Lowell McAdam. Such a move will give Google the chance to reach Verizon customers, who outnumber those of any other US operator, and could pit Google and Verizon against the long-standing partnership between AT&T and Apple.
"We're working on tablets together, for example," McAdam tells the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). "We're looking at all the things Google has in its archives that we could put on a tablet to make it a great experience."
Google refuses to confirm it is working with Verizon, saying only that anyone is free to use its Android operating system. Verizon has confirmed the device will run Android but says it will release more details later this week. Despite Google's characteristicaly vague denial, Lowell's comments suggest the firm is taking a more involved role with Verizon than merely licensing its platform.
"Verizon make no secret they would like to have the iPhone, but they're not holding out and waiting," says eMarketer analyst Noah Elkin. "They are hedging their bets against the possibility that the iPhone or the iPad don't come to Verizon this year or next year. They are making sure they still have the types of devices consumers want."
A deal between Google and Verizon makes sense as mobile rival Apple is still tied exclusively to second-placed AT&T in the US. Recent court filings indicate that Apple still has two years left of a five-year exclusivity deal, meaning the iPhone is still off limits to Verizon customers. iPad 3G contracts are also only available from AT&T.
Lowell's comments have prompted speculation about what firm would build a Google tablet sold by Verizon. Some commentators suggest HTC is the most likely to build a tablet as it already makes Google's only own-brand smartphone, the Nexus One. Rumours have already surfaced that HTC is building a tablet computer to run Google's Chrome OS, and Apple is suing the firm for breach of patent over some of its smartphone designs in a move widely interpreted as an indirect attack on Google.
Besides Google, Apple may also face competition from Palm. HP bought Palm least month and many believe the PC giant hopes to use the firm's much-praised webOS platform, which supports multitouch, to build a tablet computer as well as a range of smartphones.
"Verizon has the webOS through existing Palm devices," points out Elkin. "With HP planning a webOS-based tablet for Q3, you can certainly see tablets on other operating systems making it on to Verizon as well."
Lowell admits to the WSJ that Verizon has lagged behind rivals such as AT&T, which also provides the network for Amazon's Kindle e-reader. However, Lowell says Verizon will begin to catch up when it launches a range of new devices with its high-speed next generation networks, scheduled to be up and running next year.