Google has made its second bid for a slice of the mobile phone market, with the launch of its Nexus S phone.
The Samsung-built device comes less than 12 months after the launch of the firm’s Nexus One, built by HTC, which failed to win over many consumers.
The Nexus S will initially be launched in the UK and US, and will be available “from the end of the month”.
It is the first phone to feature the latest version of Google’s Android operating system known as Gingerbread.
It also comes with new hardware such as Near Field Communications (NFC).
This short-range wireless technology is used predominantly in places like Japan and allows people to use their phone as a travel ticket, make small payments and scan their phone over adverts, for example, to get more information about a product.
“NFC allows the Nexus S to read smart objects” said David Burke of Google’s mobile division.
These objects must have a small, unpowered NFC chip in them that is activated when the phone is held near.
“When you put the phone on top, it energises the circuit,” explained Mr Burke. “It can echo information back to the phone and the phone can send information to the chip.
“So, you can swipe a movie poster and watch the trailer automatically,” he said.
NFC is a growing trend in mobiles and will start to become more pervasive in the New Year, said Shaun Collins, managing director of research firm CCS Insight.
“NFC is going to be the technology of 2011, in my opinion,” he told BBC News. “Most of the BlackBerries will have it and a big swathe of mid to high-level Nokias will have it.”
The next version of the iPhone is also rumoured to contain the technology.
The Nexus S was first shown off by Google boss Eric Schmidt at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco in November.
The 16GB, touchscreen device has been built in cooperation with Samsung and is part of its Galaxy S family of phones and tablets.
Mr Collins said it would compete with other “flagship devices” such as Nokia’s N8, the BlackBerry Torch and the HTC Desire HD.
“This is great news for Samsung,” said Mr Collins. “It becomes the de-facto flagship product for Android.”
The search giant dismissed claims that it was showing any favouritism towards Samsung or that it was going into competition with other handset manufacturers that produce phones using Android.
“Our objective is not to compete with partners,” said Mr Burke. “Our goal is to push the mobile ecosystem forward.”
Mr Collins said that Samsung’s window of opportunity with the device was small.
The phone claims to have the “world’s first” 4in (10cm) curved display and has front and rear-facing cameras.
Inside it has the same processor as the Nexus One, but with increased memory bandwidth to make it more responsive, according to Mr Burke.
The phone is also the first handset to introduce the latest version of Android – known as Gingerbread.
The software is the fifth major revision of the firm’s software and will be rolled out to most Android phones in the “coming weeks or months”, said Mr Burke.
It includes a new user interface, support for new hardware such as gyroscope – used for gaming, for example, and internet calling.
This allows anyone to set up a VOIP account that can be used to place and receive calls over the internet.
The phone can be configured to use this feature as soon as it is in range of a wi-fi hotspot, allowing people to by pass the network operators.
Mr Burke said that he didn’t expect any resistance to this feature from the networks, particularly as many of them customise the android software and could ” remove the feature if they want to”.
The phone also has a greater emphasis on voice control.
“In the US, one in four searches done on Android devices is done with voice,” said Mr Burke.
The phone comes with existing software that allows people to control navigation on the phone with their voice as well as conduct searches.
A new set of commands also allows people to send text messages, e-mails and set alarms on their phone, amongst other things.
These will initially only be available in the US, whilst the firm build the voice models needed for its software to cope with other regional accents.
The phone will initially offered for sale by Carphone Warehouse in the UK and Best Buy in the US. It will not have its own Google web store like the Nexus One, which was shut after less than 5 months after Google admitted that it “remained a niche channel for early adopters”.
“That didn’t work out for Google,” said Mr Collins. “But Carphone Warehouse is a different ball game – they have the distribution, brand and presence.”
Mr Collins said that Carphone Warehouse was “setting themselves up as the place to go to for Android”.
“They see that the operating system is increasingly becoming the differentiating factor for consumers and they are aligning themselves with Android,” he said.
Mr Burke admitted the firm was “going for volume” by partnering with Carphone Warehouse.
In the UK, the Nexus S will come free with £35 per month contracts or will be offered unlocked – to be used on any carrier – for £549.
The Google blog said it would be available after 16 December in the US and 20 December in the UK.
However, a spokesperson for Carphone Warehouse said that it would take pre-orders from 1600 GMT today, but it would not be on sale “until later in the month”.
The firm said it was still negotiating contracts with “all of the UK operators” and could not say when a phone ordered today would be delivered.
“We don’t want to promise anything to customers that we can’t deliver,” she said.
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