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Blame Bing: Why The Google Phone Gallery Doesn't List Verizon's Best Android Phone

Google rolled out a new Google Phone Gallery today, a handy way to see the amazingly huge number of Google-backed Android phones out there. But if you’re looking for what Google CEO Eric Schmidt called the best rival to the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy, it’s missing for Verizon. Why? Verizon’s Galaxy phone uses Bing as its default service.

On Verizon’s site, you can see that the Samsung Fascinate, a “Galaxy-class” Android-powered phone, is on sale:

But it doesn’t appear in Google’s list of Verizon’s Android phones:

As we covered earlier, the new gallery doesn’t bill itself as a listing of all Android devices but of:

Android-powered devices that deliver the best Google experience today

I’d have to agree. A phone that doesn’t use Google search is hardly delivering the “best Google experience.” But still, it feels odd not to be listed, especially when Google’s Schmidt said the Galaxy class phones were better than the iPhone.

This came up two weeks ago during a press lunch at Google’s Zeitgeist partners conference. TechCrunch editor Mike Arrington asked when there would be an Android phone as good as the iPhone. Schmidt responded, at the beginning of the video below, “You’re not familiar with the Samsung Galaxy S?”

The Galaxy S is Samsung’s Android-powered phone that is sold under different names by different carriers — the same basic phone, in some ways, though the exact hardware specs may be different. Google does list the Galaxy devices for all other major US carriers: the Samsung Epic at Sprint, the Samsung Captivate with AT&T and the Samsung Vibrant with T-Mobile:

The Verizon Fascinate goes missing because rather than using Google by default, it uses Bing. In fact, I’ve read various reports that the default cannot be changed at all, though I’ve also read you add Google services manually. When the Android 2.2 software update happens later this year, that process will get easier, but the search button will remain locked to Bing. [The Motorola Devour also isn’t listed at Google, despite using Google. No idea why — perhaps it’s deemed deficient for other reasons].

Personally, I’ve been waiting for the Samsung Galaxy to come to Verizon. I was pretty sure that was the phone I wanted to jump to (I’m using an iPhone 4 as well as a Droid 2 that I was given at a Google press event, which will run out of its trial time soon). But I don’t want to jump to a phone that forces me to use Bing (sorry, Bing). Similarly, I expect Google-friendly phones should allow easy swapping to other providers (though somehow, I suspect that’s not always the case).

It’s unclear what’s caused Verizon to suddenly Bingify the Samsung Fascinate. Verizon has a deal signed in 2009 to make Bing the default search engine for its phones, or at least that was the impression given when the deal was announced. But apparently, Android was exempted. In fact, later that year, Google and Verizon announced a deal to cooperate on development of Android devices.

When Verizon forced a Bing default on its Blackberry users, there were complaints from existing customers. To date, I haven’t heard much about Verizon Fascinate customers loudly complaining that they can’t get Google. My guess would be that this is because since they’re using a new phone, most may not have noticed a “switch” — which is good news for Bing.

Bing is also pushing to get on other Verizon Android phones through an app it released recently — a Bing app just for Verizon and not other carriers. That makes me wonder if existing Android devices at Verizon already sold to consumers will get an “upgrade” to Bing the next time a software update is pushed out.

The Samsung Fascinate is not the first Android phone to be de-Googlefied. Earlier this year, for example, AT&T’s first Android phone, the Motorola Backflip, had Google cut out and replaced with Yahoo (and it’s not listed in the new Google Phone Gallery, either). It’s the kind of thing that Google execs will even point out at times, as a sign of how open Android is and how independent of Google it’s supposed to be.

But on its consumer-facing phone site, Google apparently feels no need to tout how Android is so open you can even get it without Google.

Also see Schmidt: Forcing Carriers To Provide “Clean” Android Would Violate Principle Of Open Source, which covers why Google doesn’t feel it can force carriers or handset makers to allow consumers to override default choices and other things that might be forced on them.

For related news, see Techmeme.

Postscript from Greg: I asked about the Android-Bing policy at Verizon. Here’s the response I received from a Microsoft spokesperson:

Over the coming months, Verizon will launch new Android devices, which will be pre-loaded with Bing. Bing will not be the exclusive search provider on all Verizon Android devices.

I was also told that Verizon would make the decision about which Android phones would feature Bing and which ones would have Google as the default search engine.

While we in the world of tech blogs and search marketing care about which engine is the default on Android devices, the real question is will the public at large? In other words, would Bing vs. Google as the search default cause a person to make a different handset choice?


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