Google To Offer Nexus One On Vodafone In Europe

Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) (and not T-Mobile) will offer the Google’s new Android-powered Nexus One mobile phone in Europe, starting this Spring, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) announced at the handset’s Apple-style unveiling Tuesday evening.

Google will sell the HTC-built phone itself, via a radical new direct sales channel – with no service contract for $529 ($330), or for $179 (£111) on a new $39.99-a-month T-Mobile USA contract.

But the phone will also be offered on Vodafone in Europe and on Voda’s U.S. JV Verizon a few months from now. Google product management VP Mario Querioz said at the launch event: “We are launching the web store in the U.S.. We re also shipping in three test markets – the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong.” It’s unconfirmed whether Vodafone will get to sell the phone via its own channels, but probably; it will also be unlocked.

This looks like a blow for T-Mobile UK, which has been the core Android partner for Google and HTC here since the launch of the debut G1 device last year, and is currently awaiting regulatory approval for its proposed rescue merger with Orange UK.

But don’t rule out others joining Voda at this early stage. Querioz stressed over and over: “We expect to add more operators, more devices, including from Motorola (NYSE: MOT) and other handset manufacturers as well as more countries to this programme – we will bring the web store to more countries.

“Vodafone in Europe will also be added to our site and to this new model, starting, we’re calling it Spring 2010 – we’re working as quickly and hard as we can to ensure the store is ready for business but also to make sure we offer the different flavours of the phone through these different operators later this spring.”

Why are orders only being taken in U.S. dollars for now? “It’s a matter of how quickly we can implement a system that’s robust,” Querioz said. “As quickly as we can get the web store to, .de, whatever is the right country to do that – we will do that.”

European consumers may be at an advantage over some in the U.S. because radio frequencies are standardised there, Querioz said: “On Vodafone, O2, Orange, whatever operator you might be with in Europe, you’ll see the 3G speeds. In the U.S., your phone will run at EDGE speeds on AT&T.”

More devices? Yes – Google is aiming to start selling lots of Android phones on its site. “The Nexus One is the first in a series of phones to be brought to market through this store,” Querioz said.

But, answering journalist’ questions, he refused to say whether Google itself will hold handset stock or detail the supply chain process used together with HTC. “It’s another channel – it’s not intended to be a channel that replaces other channels,” he added.

The handset itself runs a slightly updated version of the Android software on the recently released Motorola Droid (Milestone), but includes a beefier CPU and graphics chip with which Google and HTC appear to be pulling mobile makers to drive up tech innovation. The heavier processor power means a new 3D engine that offers a few eye-candy advantages over the Droid – a geeky weather widget, animated wallpaper, Cooliris photo browsing plus voice commands on every text field. See more at the press site

Querioz said Google sees Nexus One as typifying an emerging new category of smartphone-beating “superphone”. But, for all HTC’s hardware innovation and Google’s own bold step in direct retail, it remains unclear how Google intends to profit from advertising through Android, for example.