The Google-led development of a standardized open-source mobile operating system will make it easier for Google and third-party software developers to offer applications for a broad array of handsets, including entry-level models, supporters contend.
It will also reportedly encourage developers to create a variety of innovative applications unavailable to today's cellphone users.
The supporters include the 33 technology companies that joined Google in announcing the development of the Linux-based Android platform for handsets and applications. Four handset makers — Motorola, LG, Samsung and HTC — and two U.S. carriers — T-Mobile USA and Sprint Nextel — were among the consortium's members. HTC said it's committed to offering an Android handset in the second half of 2008, when T-Mobile said it would launch an Android phone.The companies are among the founding members of the Android-building Open Handset Alliance (OHA), whose other members include Skype-owner eBay, cellular chipset maker Qualcomm, chip makers Intel and Texas Instruments, software developers and major foreign carriers. The carriers include China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo and KDDI of Japan, and T-Mobile USA owner Deutsche Telekom.
The Android platform, promoted as bringing "the Internet developer model to the mobile space," consists of an open-source Linux-based operating system (OS), middleware, a "full-power" HTML Internet browser and future applications that users could download via the browser directly to their phone over the cellular airwaves. Alliance proponents said they expect the standardized Android platform to be adopted more broadly than such cellphone platforms as Windows Mobile and Palm and to include entry-level phones and feature phones.
"Through Android, developers, wireless operators and handset manufacturers will be better positioned to bring to market innovative new products faster and at a much lower cost," the alliance added.
In Google's vision, Android will unleash a torrent of downloadable applications and Web services from third-party developers enticed in part by the ability to write one application that would run on multiple handset models, from entry-level phones to expensive PDA phones, in much the same way that a single downloadable application can run on multiple brands of inexpensive and expensive PCs. To further this vision, Google said it would encourage third-party developers by acting as a software distributor, making third-party applications available for download from a Web site that it will host.
In contrast, applications developers currently rewrite their applications for multiple operating systems, including the Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian and BlackBerry operating systems for smartphones and PDA phones. In the case of more popularly priced Java-equipped phones, software developers must develop multiple versions of the same Java program not only to run on different brands of Java-equipped phones but also on different phone models within the same brand. Java never lived up to its write-once promise. Customizing a Java application for a particular phone can also be challenging, whereas Android wouldn't require such customization, alliance members said.
For Google, Android's write-once promise creates an opportunity to broaden the number of handsets capable of running Google applications, with Google generating advertising revenue from ads appearing on handsets when the applications are used.
Although currently available OS for smartphones and PDA phone already enable applications to run on multiple phone brands without a rewrite, alliance proponents said they expects the Android platform to be adopted more broadly than these OS and to include entry-level phones and feature phones, phones with small and large screens, as well as phones with and without QWERTY keyboards and touchscreens. They cited several reasons for the potentially broad deployment, including:
- what a Google spokesman called "the most liberal open-source license in the mobile industry." The phrase has been interpreted by some industry analysts as a free license to handset makers and a free or very low cost license to applications developers.
- the potential for Google's mobile-ad revenue to be shared with carriers, potentially driving down the cost of handsets even more. "Android allows it," a Google spokesman said. Consumers, however, "won't see for some time a completely ad-driven mobile service for cellphones," added Andy Rubin, Google's mobile platforms director.
- the open-source platform, which encourages developers to tweak the source code to enable innovative applications that would otherwise be unavailable, analysts said.
- and multiple advantages over other platforms, including the ability for Android applications to access all of a phone's core features and enable consumers to personalize phones by adding different user interfaces and upgraded core applications such as contact-list management. In fact, Android will make it easy for consumers to upgrade their phone without getting a new one, said Google's Rubin.
"Android does not differentiate between the phone's core applications and third-party applications," an alliance statement added. "They can all be built to have equal access to a phone's capabilities," including access to a phone's contact list and GPS location.
Because of such advantages, analyst Rick Sizemore of market research company MultiMedia Intelligence, said Android seems to be positioned as an open-source competitor to Windows Mobile. "This is a development that will make the environment for Windows Mobile much more challenging," he contended. "Although Microsoft has agreements with almost 50 handset vendors, its software still will only power 10 million to 15 million phones that will be shipped this year."
In the future, Android could be used in other mobile products, including handheld PCs and personal navigation devices (PNDs), alliance members said, as well as in "many types of mobile devices very different from what you see today," Google's Rubin added. The technology could also appear in a Google-brand phone, but Google said it was not announcing one or precluding one in the future.