Internet giant Google isn’t going to be making the long-rumored gPhone; instead, the company plans to offer its own mobile phone operating system, dubbed “Android.” And one thing that sets Android apart from competing mobile platforms from companies like RIM, Microsoft, Palm, Nokia and Apple is that Android will be offered under an open source license, meaning companies don’t have to pay for the system, and will be able to add new features to make their products stand out from the competition. Android will be supported by the 34-member Open Handset Alliance, which includes chipmakers like Intel, Qualcomm, Texas Intruments, and Broadcom among its members, along with SiRF Technology Holdings, Nvidia, Skype-owner eBay, and Marvell Technology.
Android is based on the Linux operating system and Sun Microsystems’ Java language, and includes an operating system, user interface, and applications.
Handsets running Android aren’t expected to hit markets until the second half of 2008, but a wide range of handset makers have already signed on with Android, including HTC, Motorola, LG, and Samsung. In the United States, Sprint and T-Mobile are expected to offer Android-enabled handsets; overseas, the mammoth China Telecom plans to offer Android handsets, along with T-Mobile in Germany, Telecom Italia, Spain’s Telefònica, and Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and KDDI.
An open source mobile phone operating system, if it stands up to existing commercial products, should serve to lower the bar for entry into the smartphone and mobile computing market. Although Google won’t be making any money selling licenses to Android—Android phones may not even tout Google’s involvement with logos—the company is looking at an Android-enabled mobile ecosystem is a long-term opportunity to expand its existing cash-generating operations: digital advertising.
From a consumer’s point of view, Android should heat up competition in the smartphone space, resulting in ever more-capable handsets becoming available at lower prices. And unlike some closed-off systems (like the current state of the Apple iPhone) users will be able to install third party applications to add new functionality to their phones. Android may enable smartphones to shift away from primarily business and enterprise users to truly consumer-oriented devices.
Google will face significant hurdles to making Android a force in the mobile marketplace: Apple’s iPhone has already changed the direction of the mobile industry, and the company is unlikely to sit still. Similarly, Microsoft is on track to put over 12 million Windows Mobile devices into service this year, accounting for over 10 percent of the smartphone market.
The first SDK for Android is scheduled to be available November 12; however, Android itself isn’t expected to be available to developers until sometime in 2008.