RealTime IT News

Google's Big Phone Gambit: An Open Mobile Platform

It's not a Google phone, per se, but the search engine and Internet technology giant is making good on its expected launch of a wide-ranging mobile phone initiative, today joining a group of big-name partners to announce an open software platform for mobile phones.

Today's debut of Android, a software platform for the development of mobile applications, comes officially under the auspices of the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). In addition to Google, OHA membership includes major mobile telephony companies, semiconductor manufacturers, and mobile handset players.

Executives from Google, Qualcomm, T-Mobile Motorola and Taiwan's HTC detailed OHA's plans in a conference call this morning. They said they expect the first phones using the new software won't be available until the second half of 2008, but a software development kit for Android will be released Nov. 12.

Android, which consists of an integrated software stack including operating system, middleware, user interface and applications, will be made available "under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products," according to the group. Google acquired Android in 2005.

Today's announcement promises to shake up the phone industry, which has kept a tight rein on third-party software innovation.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted Android would "launch a wave of industry innovation we haven't perceived before in the mobile industry."

"The fundamental problem with mobile phones today is they do not have full-power browsers," Schmidt added. "We have to do specialized engineering to get on the device. Android is a full-power browser and experience; you won't have to shoe-horn applications in."

Android founder Andy Rubin, now Google's director of mobile platforms, said Android would make it easier for consumers to get and use new content and applications on their handsets.

"The user experience is top-notch -- amazing," said Rubin, who also formerly served as the CEO of T-Mobile and founded mobile device maker Danger Inc. He pointed in particular to Android's robust Web browser: "There's no difference between the phone and Web browsing on your PC."

According to Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, OHA isn't a response to Apple's iPhone, or other phone competitors. "It's really time to grow the pie rather than keep trying to figure out how we cut that pie up," he said. "There is opportunity for many different operating systems."

Google itself has been widely rumored to be working on a smartphone or mobile device. But when asked about it, Schmidt said the company doesn't pre-announce products -- though he did pitch Android as a potential platform for such an effort.

"If you were to build a 'gPhone,' this is the perfect platform. It's so open and extensible," he said. "Imagine not one gPhone, but a thousand devices as a result of this platform."

Motorola CEO Ed Zander said the announcement of OHA is about more than what any one vendor can do.

"It's about open software, open source and multiple brands and devices organically connected to the Internet," he said, "We believe this will bring more new applications more rapidly to market than we've seen before, with more engaging, rich user interfaces."