The Wall Street Journal_ reported last week that Google is developing a prototype cell phone that could be available as soon as next year. The phone would offer a better mobile Web-browsing experience, and offer email, too. And it would be free. Sort of.

Supposedly Google may be going for an entirely different business model with its phone, and could be planning to offer its services to subscribers free, so long as they’re willing to put up with some advertising. Some analysts doubt that consumers will take to the advertising, suggesting that it might be better-suited for young people who don’t have the money to spend. The rest of us would rather pay a few dollars a month than listen to ads before calling home. Others suggest that Google is too smart to get into this market, citing the old Google PC rumors, and insisting that the Internet giant is merely using the prototypes as a way of convincing carriers to feature its search engine. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.—Gregory Mone