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Android Appears At Mobile World Congress

Barcelona, Spain — Attendees at the Mobile World Congress, held here this week, got a glimpse of the first public demonstration of a cellular phone based on Google’s Android platform, but the demo of an “early-look release” was hosted not by handset manufacturers, but by chipmaker Texas Instruments and software developer Wind River.

Android is a standardized Linux-based open-source mobile operating system promoted as making it easier for Google and third-party software developers to offer new types of applications for a broad array of handsets, including entry-level models. They hope to emulate the PC software model in which a single downloadable application is able to run on multiple brands of inexpensive and expensive PCs. Android is also promoted as enabling consumers to download applications over the air from any download store, not just from carriers’ download stores.

Android’s license-agreement terms don’t prohibit carriers from controlling the sale of all downloadable Android applications or Web-based services, but a Google spokesman claimed it “unlikely” that Android-endorsing carriers would do so. To date, T-Mobile and Sprint have endorsed Android.

Supporters also claim Android will be adopted more broadly than currently available operating systems such as Windows Mobile and Palm, which are designed for smartphones and PDA phones and already enable applications to run on multiple phone brands without a rewrite. Android phones will include entry-level phones and feature phones, not just phones with QWERTY keyboards or touchscreens, for several reasons, supporters contend. The reasons include liberal open-source licensing from Google, the potential for Google’s mobile-ad revenue to be shared with carriers and the ability of third-party developers to tweak the source code to enable innovative applications. In addition, Android applications will be able to access all of a phone’s core features and enable consumers to personalize phones by downloading different user interfaces and upgrading core applications such as contact-list management.

Supporters include 33 technology companies that joined Google last year in announcing the development of the platform, including Motorola, LG, Samsung and HTC. At the time, HTC said it was committed to offering an Android handset in the second half of 2008, when T-Mobile said it would launch an Android phone.

In Barcelona, Wind broke word that the demo used a Texas Instruments processor integrated by Wind River into a LogicPD’s Zoom mobile development kit, a “form-factor development platform” that offers developers “a more realistic system for development and validation,” Wind said. The company said it has previous experience in helping bring Linux-based devices to market.