Google's Android adds to mobile complexity

Handset makers and operators are regarding Android as one more of many platforms they already use.

While Google may be pitching its new mobile software platform as a way to unify the mobile market, even members of the new alliance think differently.

Google billed the platform as one primarily aimed at making it easier for application developers to write applications that can run on any phone.

But handset makers and operators are regarding Android, the new Linux-based mobile phone software announced Monday, as one more of many platforms that they already use.

Motorola, one of the biggest champions of mobile Linux, for instance, says that it will add Android to its existing lineup of phones. "We have commitments to carrier partners and other vendors about different products and we will continue along those lines," said Ed Zander, chairman and CEO of Motorola.

Motorola won't be switching from one existing operating system to another, said Paul Alfieri, a Motorola spokesman. "Android is one in our arsenal," he said. Many Motorola phones use the Linux operating system supplied by MontaVista.

HTC, a close partner of Microsoft and supporter of Windows Mobile, has a similar plan. "Our commitment to other operating systems won't be changing," said Peter Chou, CEO of HTC.

Google, however, is hopeful that even some competitive mobile operating system developers might be interested in using Android. "The fact that Android can be used and modified means that people who might even be competitors might adopt it and use it for the basis of their work," said Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO and chairman.

The initial reaction from competitive mobile software platform developers makes that seem improbable. Nokia, which uses Symbian and its own Series 60 development platform, sounded unlikely to adopt Android. "We remain committed to our path of developing converged connected devices around Symbian and Series 60," said Bill Plummer, head of multimedia for Nokia in North America.

He said that there's room in the market for multiple platforms and that Nokia welcomes options like Android that are open. He also pointed to an existing effort designed to support interoperability across platforms: the Open Mobile Alliance. The group, of which Nokia is a founding member, was designed to create standards that would enable applications to work across platforms. While it has developed a number of standards, it hasn't helped many individual applications interoperate across different operating systems.

Microsoft also sounded unlikely to want to adopt Android. "It's not really new or revolutionary," said Scott Rockfeld, group product manager at Microsoft's Windows Mobile, of his impression of Android. He pointed to the partner community that Windows Mobile has already developed over the past five years.

Almost 50 device makers with 140 different form factors use Windows Mobile, he said. "We've been at this for quite a while," he said. In addition, developers who know how to develop for Windows can easily port their skills to make applications for Windows Mobile, he said.

While Google said that the platform includes a Linux-based operating system, it did not reply to questions about the source of the operating system, which could be totally new or based on an existing mobile Linux operating system. Wind River, which is a member of the Open Handset Alliance formed around Android, implied that its operating system drives Android. Wind River Chief Marketing Officer John Bruggeman couldn't offer specifics about the OS in Android but said: "You can look at the OHA members and see that Wind River is the only Linux provider there."

MontaVista, which makes a mobile Linux operating system used by many mobile phone manufacturers including Motorola, is not a member of OHA but intends to join, said Jim Ready, CTO and founder of MontaVista. He is skeptical that Android would specify only one OS. "If it's an open system, do you think Google is going to mandate that?" he said. "That defies logic."

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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