RealTime IT News

Google Shows Off 'iPhone-Like' Android Features

SAN FRANCISCO – Google kicked off its Google I/O developer's conference here with an update on several of its Web-related initiatives and a flashy demo of its Android software for mobile devices.

A prototype phone from an unnamed manufacturer was shown running Android software during the keynote. The device featured a touch screen display and a startup screen full of colorful icons for launching programs and Web services, such as Gmail, with the touch of a finger.

A quick flick of the finger from a status bar brings up pending actions such as an imminent appointment or unread e-mail.

Andy Rubin, director of mobile platforms at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), said some of the features were shown today publicly for the first time. Google bought Rubin's company, Android, in 2005. The Android software is the centerpiece of the Google-led Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which aims to create an open source mobile platform for developers.

Once Android is finished, OHA's goal is to make it available on a wide variety of handsets, giving developers, in theory, a far easier, more standardized way to distribute mobile applications.

In the demo, the touch screen features were evident as the user simply flicked his finger to go back and forth between Web pages or to access more features. Unlike the iPhone, the demo only showed touch using one finger, not multitouch. Rubin claimed multitouch isn't a software issue but more a function of appropriate hardware and sensors that weren't in the particular phone being demoed. He also said some Android-compatible mobile phones might use a trackball instead of touch.

The phone demoed included an accelerometer put to good use by Google. The demo showed Google's Street View" being used along with a compass feature that let you change your view as you turned with the device. That feature got a healthy round of "oooooohs" from the packed hall of developers.

Rubin stuck to previous company statements when asked when Android-powered phones might be available to consumers. "The second half of 2008," he said. Rubin also emphasized Android is a complete software stack with all the security and features to produce a new generation of mobile phones.

"Many of the devices used today are based on 20-year-old platforms, when security wasn't really thought about," he said. "Starting from a clean slate has its advantages. This is a platform that will let the carriers to more innovative things."

Rubin also did not rule out the possibility that Android could be adapted to run on existing phones if a phone provider or developer wanted to try that.

"I'm very impressed by what I saw," Maribel Lopez, analyst with Lopez Research, told InternetNews.com. "The iPhone is going to continue to advance, too, so this competition is going to lead to a lot of new features. My question is, where is Microsoft? Will Windows Mobile match up?"

Gearing up new 'Gears'

In the keynote, various Google product managers gave updates on a range of projects such as App Engine and OpenSocial. As reported earlier, Google confirmed it is now opening up the preview release of its hosted App Engine developer platform to anyone who wants to try it. Since it was announced last month, Google has limited participation to a waiting list that grew to 75,000 on top of another 75,000 it's already registered.

Google also announced its dropping the 'Google' name from its Web browser plug-in which now simply be called Gears. While the Google Gears initially focused on bringing offline capabilities to Web applications, Google said Gears is now more broadly focused on "advancing the Web" as an open source project powered by developers both inside and outside the search giant.

At I/O, MySpace showed new features it said are now live on the social networking site thanks to Gears, including easier search and e-mailing sorting capability.

Google said more than 2,900 developers had signed up for the two-day I/O conference, exceeding expectations.