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FAQ: Google's Android phone platform

A closer look at what Google’s Android means for the industry and future of mobile devices.

By Brad Reed, Network World
November 05, 2007 06:00 PM ET

Network World - Now that Google and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance have unveiled their open source Android platform for mobile devices, many may be wondering just how this will change the mobile phone industry. In this FAQ, we examine Android’s potential to deliver high-quality mobile Internet, as well as to open up other mobile carriers’ operating platforms.

I thought Google was supposed to unveil the “GPhone” today. What happened with that?

At the moment, Google is not releasing any mobile devices on its own. Rather, it has collaborated with several technology and wireless companies to develop Android, an open source platform that can be used by any third-party developers to create applications for mobile devices. Although Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms, won’t comment on the company’s future plans to create a mobile phone of its own, he does note that “if you were to build a GPhone, you’d build it out of this [Android] platform.”

So what is the Android platform?

Android is a Linux-based open platform for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and some key mobile applications. The idea behind the platform, says Google, is to spur innovation in developing mobile applications that will give users the same experience surfing the Web on their phone as they currently have on their desktop computers.

Who is helping Google out with this project?

Thirty-three companies have banded together with Google to form a consortium known as the Open Handset Alliance [OHA], whose stated goal is to “foster innovation on mobile devices and give consumers a far better user experience than much of what is available on today’s mobile platforms.” The OHA features several major industry players, including Qualcomm, HTC, eBay, Samsung, Motorola, Intel, China Mobile, T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel.

When will the Android platform become available for adoption, and when can we expect to see some Android-powered devices?

Android will become available for developers and manufacturers starting next week, on Nov. 12, and there are several companies lined up to make devices and applications for the platform. HTC CEO Peter Chou, for instance, says his company  plans to release its first Android-powered mobile phone in the second half of 2008, with “more devices to come.” Additionally, Deutsche Telekom CEO René Olbermann says T-Mobile plans to use Android to “launch robust wireless Internet and Web 2.0 services for T-Mobile customers in the U.S. and Europe in 2008.” Meanwhile, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs says his company is developing chipsets for the platform that integrate such tools and applications as mobile television, Wi-Fi and GPS.

What implications does this have for the wireless device market?

Because Android is an open source platform, it will allow users to connect to any network they choose, and will also let them add whatever applications they want. Van Baker, a research vice president at Gartner, says if the platform is successful and becomes widely adopted, it could pressure the major carriers to loosen their grip on their wireless devices. Thus, he says, companies such as Verizon might think twice before they disable Bluetooth on their handsets if they know their customers can easily switch to another carrier that will allow them to do as they please.

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