Google offers up 'Android' as its new open mobile platform

The system is 'more....than any single Google phone,' says Google CEO

Google and several other technology companies plan to unveil a new mobile platform called Android on Monday, according to a statement from the company. The system is expected to yield an actual phone in the second half of 2008.

According to Google, Android is "the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices." The internet search firm worked with T-Mobile, High Tech Computer, Qualcomm and Motorola to develop Android through the Open Handset Alliance (OHA).

"By providing developers a new level of openness that enables them to work more collaboratively, Android will accelerate the pace at which new and compelling mobile services are made available to consumers," the statement adds.

The OHA includes 34 companies that want to reduce the cost of developing and distributing mobile devices and services, and Android is the first step in that direction, the statement added. Android consists of an operating system, middleware, a user-friendly interface and applications.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the OHA partnership will "help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world. A fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future."

Schmidt said that the Android announcement is "more ambitious than any single Google phone. ... Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models."

Forrester Research wireless analyst Charles Golvin said the system's effect on the industry is likely be widespread, although it will take a while to be felt.

Android's impact will be "broad across all players in the mobile environment, driving innovative developers to craft new applications that leverage both the mobile networks and the Internet, and helping to change the way consumers behave when on the go," he said.

"Google is far from the only beneficiary, as competitors like Yahoo and even Microsoft stand to benefit, should they embrace this approach," Golvin said. "The impact will build slowly over time, as initially the devices using this platform will form a very small percentage of the market."

In a conference call, Schmidt reiterated that Android is not the oft-predicted Google Phone, but said that if a Google phone were to be built, it would run well on Android. "As a result of this platform, you'll do amazing things on the mobile platform you never thought of before," he said. "Consumers will have access to less expensive devices, easy-to-use interfaces, much better access to the Internet and ultimate superior" performance.

Andy Rubin, director of mobile platforms at Google, said the Android moniker came from the name of a mobile technology company Rubin co-founded and Google acquired in 2005.

The Android platform's software developer kit (SDK) will be available next Monday at the OHA Web site when additional technical details about it will be revealed, Rubin explained.

An FAQ on the OHA site says Android will be released under the Apache 2 Open Source license, something that Rubin said means "anybody can do anything [with it]. No restrictions."

On the conference call, Schmidt was joined by several OHA members, including a representative from China Mobile, the largest wireless carrier in the world with 340 million subscribers. "China Mobile is excited to participate and work with Google and other alliance partners," said Bill Wang, general manager of the China Mobile Research Institute. Android "will encourage faster adoption of smart phones in China," he said.

Others on the call included Rene Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile; Peter Chou, CED of handset maker HTC; Paul Jackobs, CEO of Qualcomm and Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola.

Aside from China Mobile and T-Mobile, other alliance members that are wireless carriers include Sprint Nextel, Japan-based NTT DoCoMo., and Telecom Italia. While U.S. carriers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T are not members, Schmidt said, "there is the ability for anybody to join."

Separately, Sprint issued a statement calling the OHA and Android an "opportunity to extend [Sprint's] industry leadership in offering mobile content and applications to customers when, where and how they want them."

Google Australia's head of corporate communications & public affairs, Rob Shilkin, said that Android has attracted great interest in Australia.

"The Android platform will be made available for free, worldwide, with a software developer kit available on 13 November, Australian time."

"There are opportunities for other companies, including mobile carriers, to become involved in the Open Handset Alliance itself. The effort is very much open to others," Shilkin said.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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