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Supernova Google has declined to discuss the possibility of a Google-branded IP-based cell phone handset, the subject of much speculation in recent weeks.

Speaking with The Reg this morning at the annual Supernova tech pow-wow in downtown San Francisco, Google voice product manager Craig Walker chuckled at the prospect of actually answering our question about the phone's existence. As you'd expect.

"You want me to answer a question about a rumor?" he grinned, in a decided lighthearted way.

In the past, when confronted the loose talk of a Google handset, the company has said: "We're not making hardware... We're enabling other people to build hardware." But the company has yet to address the most recent rumors. And there seems to be a fine line between building hardware and not building hardware.

A secondhand source tells The Reg that Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC has roughly 150 engineers working inside Google's Mountain View Chocolate Factory. And with its Chrome OS "operating system," Google is placing strict restrictions on the physical design of the machines it runs on.

Walker was the co-founder and chief executive of GrandCentral Communications, the new-age net telephony outfit that Google purchased in July 2007 and eventually transformed into Google Voice. A telephony thingy that lets you use a single phone number for multiple phones - and turn your voice mails into email - Google Voice is rumored to be an integral part of the rumored Googlephone.

Standing beside his PR handler, Walker also sidestepped a question about Google's future plans for Gizmo5, the VoIP outfit Google purchased just last month. It too is a supposed component of the Googlephone chimera.

Google Voice - nee GrandCentral - dovetailed with Gizmo5 from its earliest days, and Walker merely said that Google likes the service's "open" approach. Unlike, say, Skype, the Gizmo5 network is based on open standards: the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP).

XMPP also underpins Google Wave, the company's new-age communication and collaboration thingy. Earlier, during a panel discussion, Walker was asked if Google might integrate Gizmo5 with Wave, a web-based service (still in limited beta) that already combines email with IM and document sharing.

"That's an interesting idea," Walker said.

Bootnote

Today's panel also included Jason Fischl, director of developer relations at Skype, and yes, he was asked whether Skype would go the open standard route. All he would say is: "All I can say is 'Skype is definitely much more involved in standards. I was involved in standards before joining Skype. And we have hired Jonathan Rosenberg, who is one of the authors of the SIP protocol. We've hired over the past year, eight to ten people, who are very involved in standards. I can't be specific how we're going to get involved, but what I can say is that we think standards are important."

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