Google Plans $599 Version of HTC One in Hardware Push

Google Inc., maker of the world’s most popular smartphone software, plans its own version of HTC Corp.’s HTC One handset, according to Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps.

The device will run Google’s Android operating system and cost $599 without a wireless contract, Pichai said today in an onstage interview at the D: All Things Digital conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The retail price is less than Apple Inc.’s iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S4 from Samsung Electronics Co. -- two of the most popular sellers.

Google’s latest handset comes two years after the company agreed to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in a bid to take on the iPhone and gain more clout for Android in the wireless business. Android now runs on 75 percent of smartphones, and Mountain View, California-based Google is stepping up its focus on hardware with handsets, laptops and wearable devices, including computer-enabled eyewear.

“These are the beginning steps of us thinking hard about how we get the right user experience,” said Pichai, who led efforts to debut laptops using Google’s Chrome software before assuming responsibility for Android earlier this year.

While his promotion fueled speculation that Chrome and Android might merge into a single business, Pichai today downplayed the potential for a reorganization along those lines.

“We have two platforms which are doing well,” he said. “Our plan isn’t to change course now.”

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Apple sells a version of the iPhone 5 without a contract for $649 on its website. The Galaxy S4 is available for $640 from AT&T Inc. and $650 from Verizon Wireless, though it is discounted with a two-year contract.

Some consumers who don’t like the features handset makers include on Android-based phones may be willing to pay a premium for a device designed with more input from Google, according to Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

“There are certainly customers who want the pure Google experience, who don’t care for the many user-interface and additional features that the manufacturer ladens onto the top of the base Android experience,” Golvin said in an interview.

Google introduced the Nexus One touch-screen handset in 2010. At the time, Google said the phone would cost $529 without a contract.

Like other versions of the HTC One, Google’s update will run Android. It won’t have some features that HTC previously included on the phone.

As Google adds handsets, the company is being careful to avoid upsetting relationships with handset makers that build Android devices, according to Avi Greengart, research director at Current Analysis.

“The plan seems to be to offer stock Android versions of the most popular smartphones,” Greengart said. “They appear to be genuinely interested in operating their own phone business -- Motorola -- as a separate entity and not conflict with their partners.”

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