Google-branded phone coming early next year?

We've been hearing talk of thoroughly Google-branded phones since before Android was announced -- and if you want to get really technical about it, you could argue that it's already happened twice in the form of the Dev Phone 1 and the Ion. Thing is, those are strictly developer-oriented one-offs based on existing models, and TechCrunch is reporting in a rather authoritative tone today that Google's just about to launch a consumer phone all its own designed to in-house, no-compromise specifications with signs suggesting that either Samsung or LG would be responsible for OEM duties. Allegedly, the device was supposed to be at retail in time for the holidays but ended up getting pushed back into early 2010, at which point we can expect a big marketing push -- but the question is, why? Google had a heavy hand in the design and development of the chunky, geeky HTC Dream, so we already know they're probably better off leaving the details of the industrial design to the guys who've been doing this for a while -- and with strong new partnerships with Verizon and Motorola just now bearing fruit, it's safe to say that Big Red wouldn't be a launch partner. Our most interesting theory here is that AT&T -- which has gone totally radio-silent for all things Android in the past six months -- is responding to the probable impending loss of its iPhone exclusivity by scoring a coup on a gorgeous, aspirational device with the Google logo all over it. Given the time frame that TC's suggesting, it sounds like we wouldn't have to wait long to find out what's what.