It's not so bad, unless it backfires
The problem with smartphones is that most of them were crap.
Essentially, telecom providers (in the US at least) tried to lock you into their crap products, services, and monitized websites. It was something like AOL.
What Google has done (With help from Apple) is say: The internet should be the internet, not some lame version of it that only monitizes your carrier.
If handset manufactures were not tweaking Android (badly) so that it took them a lot of effort to enable a handset upgrade, there would be little percieved need for a Gphone. However, many manufacturers have setup complex (apparently bitmapped) UI's that are not generic enough to be portible; hence they have not updated from Android 1.5 or 1.6. (Samsung, Motorola, HTC...) Since this has happened, there is a percieved need for a handset that won't be tied to whims of the carrier - or handset manufacturer.
This is what the Gphone provides. It has (and will likely continue to have) the "latest, most-hype-iest" OS version to date. You can be pretty sure that the OS will continue to be able to upgrade to the latest version - even if that version is too heavy for your phone. This is not the case with many phones that people assumed would be upgradable to new software - as the existing one had teething issues.
I think that end-users have stopped trusting statements from Telecom operators (Hello AT&T: How long did we wait for MMS on the iPhone? How about tethering?) Combine this with the perception that "someone is keeping me from upgrading my OS" and there is perception that a Gphone (Showing how it's done right, upgradable and everything.) is needed. There is nothing that keeps vendors from allowing upgrades of their old phones to the "Newist Shiniest" but them selves.
Wireless Operators want the most money for themselves. They want to be the customers for all phone vendors. Apple made them change the way they did things, to benefit the consumers with new features. Google is just continuing this: their customers are not the Wireless companies, but the End users. AOL is dead. Long live the internet.