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Sprint Steps Up Efforts to Woo Android Developers

Ahead of next month's rollout of its first Android-based smartphone, Sprint is moving to encourage developers to create applications based on the Google-backed open source mobile software and that will run on its network.

New to the Sprint Application Developer Web site today are tools and information for creating Android apps for the Sprint network. These include network and product APIs, such as location-based services and messaging, now available through the Sprint Developer Sandbox.

Developers utilizing the site and tools will be able to create and test applications for the Android platform on the Sprint (NYSE: S) network.

"Sprint continues to demonstrate its leadership in providing an open environment for developers to create and bring to market innovative applications for business users and consumers," Len Barlik, vice president of wireless and wireline services for Sprint, said in a statement.

The new tools come in advance of October's rollout of the HTC Hero, for which Sprint will be the exclusive U.S. carrier -- making it also only the second wireless network in the nation to offer an Android-powered smartphone. So far, rival T-Mobile has debuted two Android-based phones, both from HTC.

"With robust Android support on our application developer Web site and the upcoming launch of HTC Hero, Sprint has opened the door for developers to create Android applications that take advantage of [Sprint's] speed and reliability," Barlik added.

Sprint will begin selling the HTC Hero Oct. 11 --a launch date that will also likely mean it becomes the third Android smartphone to ship in the U.S. after the G1 and the month-old MyTouch 3G, both manufactured by HTC.

Motorola's (NYSE: MOT) first Android phone, the Cliq, also will be sold through T-Mobile, but neither company has yet revealed its expected sale date.

Android also may be poised to catch on in Europe, as well: In April, Samsung unveiled the first of three planned smartphones based on the software.

At the same time, Android itself is undergoing an aggressive series of updates. Its first update, version 1.5 or "Cupcake," shipped in May, while the SDK for version 1.6, codenamed "Donut," became available this month.

Google, Android's chief backer, also recently gave the Android Market a makeover designed to make it more appealing for end users and developers selling their applications.

Holding out for a Hero

In the meantime, with all the action building around Android, Sprint is making sure it gets a share of developers' interest.

HTC Hero
The upcoming HTC Hero. Click to enlarge.
Source: Sprint
To help its cause, the nation's No.3 carrier also plans to add Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) representatives and Android experts to the roster of presenters for its developer conference, taking place Oct. 26 to Oct. 28 in Santa Clara, Calif.

The Hero itself may also play a role in wooing developers. The device is the first Android phone with a redesigned user interface. Called HTC Sense, the new user interface offers a multi-panel, customizable home screen with Internet-based widgets.

The Sense interface is designed to let users personalize various aspects of the experience -- a feature that analysts have said makes the Hero the first Android handset to deliver on Android's initial promise of offering a unique user experience.

More competition for HTC

At the same time, the Hero's upcoming release will also help to better position HTC as it battles with rival hardware manufacturers for greater slice of the lucrative smartphone market.

In June, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) introduced its new flagship model, the Pre, and followed earlier this month with the smaller Pixi. Sprint is also currently the exclusive network for both.

Each of the phones use the same webOS software developed by Palm (NASDAQ: PALM), around which the handset maker has high hopes of building an application ecosystem like that created by Apple and its iPhone.

As a result, Palm is ramping up its own app store, called Palm Catalog, which is widely expected to come out of beta this week. Palm is also set to introduce the next webOS upgrade by the end of the month.

[cob:Special_Report]Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) hasn't rested on its laurels after launching the iPhone 3GS on June 16. The next day, it upgraded the iPhone OS to version 3.0, and on Sept. 9 delivered further enhancements and new functionality with version 3.1.

It will also begin selling the iPhone in China as early as next month in a three-year deal with China Unicom.

Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) is slated to release an update to the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm next month and is working with Verizon Wireless to open an app store. It's also on tap to offer a new mobile browser next year.

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) just disclosed details about a new mobile Internet device, the N900, running on its new open-source platform Maemo 5 and is planning to offer a netbook called Nokia Booklet 3G later this year. It also unveiled a new line of music smartphones and issued a new SDK for Ovi the first week of September.

Android is also set to receive some new competition next month. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is set to roll out a slew of phones powered by the latest version of Windows Mobile, version 6.5, on Oct. 6.