Yes, Virginia – there really is a Google phone – UPDATED

HTC Bravo – which may be the base for GooglePhone

Om Malik is barely back in the country from attending Le Web in Paris and he’s on the hunt for the Google Phone story. Stay tuned.

Yes Virginia, there really is a Google Phone! And no, I don’t mean all those Android-powered devices, but instead a Google-branded phone that is made by an original equipment maker. The company has started giving away these devices to its employees, who started tweeting about it last night, and the company had to make an announcement this morning.

In a blog post on the Android Blog, Mario Queiroz, Vice President, Product Management writes:

We recently came up with the concept of a mobile lab, which is a device that combines innovative hardware from a partner with software that runs on Android to experiment with new mobile features and capabilities, and we shared this device with Google employees across the globe. This means they get to test out a new technology and help improve it. Unfortunately, because dogfooding is a process exclusively for Google employees, we cannot share specific product details. We hope to share more after our dogfood diet.

Amazing, crazy, why? Those were the first things that ran through my mind when I read that Google is actually to make a device. This is very much a page out of Microsoft’s playbook. Microsoft makes specification designs and Google seems to be doing just that…

Reading between the lines, Google’s decision to release a device shows that the company is worried about the fear of fragmentation of the Android ecosystem that we have often talked about. By putting its stake in the ground, the company is hoping that it doesn’t make the mistake that Microsoft made by dragging its feet in releasing Zune and ceding the market to Apple’s iPod.

I think it’s the smart way to deal with open source. Everyone and their dog can have their shot at rejiggering Android to fit their needs; but, it’s incumbent upon the designer of the OS to maintain core standards – and what better way to do so than by offering their own hardware.

UPDATE: A bit more info this morning, including natural tie-in with T-Mobile and the phone being sold only direct retail – no carrier.