Google Launches Mobile Phone Platform, Android: What it Means, What Experts Think

99 Comments

[qi:004] Updated post press conference, read My Take #2: Google (GOOG) has just announced its much talked about Google mobile phone platform, Android, and has announced a large list of partners who are working with the company. The company said it’s worked with T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm (QCOM), Motorola (MOT) and others on the development of Android through the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry leaders.

Andy Rubin, who spearheaded the project, writes on the Google blog:

It’s important to recognize that the Open Handset Alliance and Android have the potential to be major changes from the status quo — one which will take patience and much investment by the various players before you’ll see the first benefits. But we feel the potential gains for mobile customers around the world are worth the effort.

The first handsets are likely to be available in the second half of 2008, the company said. Other partners in the alliance include Sprint Nextel (S), Telecom Italia, NTT DoCoMo, Broadcom (BRCM), and a slew of other technology companies. [digg=http://digg.com/tech_news/Google_Launches_Mobile_Phone_Platform_Android]

What is Android? A fully integrated mobile “software stack” that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications. It will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products. Next week, the Alliance will release an early access software development kit to provide developers with the tools necessary to create innovative and compelling applications for the platform.

Who is missing? Quite a few large carriers, including Vodafone (VOD), Orange, SK Telecom, AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ). Nokia (NOK), Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson are among the handset makers not part of this alliance.

My Take: This is one massive PR move, with nothing to show for it right now, and it seems like there are other unknown reasons (Facebook ad platform launch perhaps) for the motivation here. No phones till second half of 2008 — in our ADD culture that is a lifetime. The partners — with the exception of HTC and T-Mobile — are companies who are, in cricketing parlance, on the backfoot. Motorola, for instance is not exactly a bastion of handset excellence. Sprint — we know how well they are doing.

MyTake #2: Following the press call, I actually have more questions than answers. They completely dodged my question about how does it reconcile with other mobile linux efforts which are backed by none other than partners like Motorola. Andy Rubin replied that all the software is available for the developers in a week, which is non-answer if there is any. Funny – no phones till second half of 2008 and they want developers to shift their attention from iPhone, Symbian, other Mobile Linux and Microsoft Windows Mobile. Even more convinced that this is a PR move. Not clear how this helps Google from a fiscal sense and its business implications for the company. Oh well, time to hound their press department.

What Others Say:

Chetan Sharma of Chetan Sharma Consulting: Google definitely assembled an impressive list of partners for this initiative. On a fundamental level, it still remains to be seen if this move is going to be transform the industry. Of course, everyone wants to be seen supporting openness, proof will be in the implementation and the business models that support this vision, otherwise this is just yet another initiative.

The initiative does help lower the cost of the handset due to cheap licenses for the stack and if this proves successful, some device manufacturers might give up their own efforts to minimize cost and focus more on hardware features that integrate well with Android. This is more an answer to Microsoft than to the carrier fragmentation Google has talked about. Is this going to be a successful Trojan horse strategy for Google remains to be seen.

Forrester Research wireless analyst Charles Golvin: The impact is broad across all players in the mobile environment, driving innovative developers to craft new applications that leverage both the mobile networks and the Internet, and helping to change the way consumers behave when on the go. Google is far from the only beneficiary, as competitors like Yahoo (YHOO) and even Microsoft (MSFT) stand to benefit should they embrace this approach; the impact will build slowly over time as initially the devices using this platform will form a very small percentage of the market.


99 Comments

Onofrio ("Norm") Schillaci

What are you guys talking about.

The iphone rumors began in the fall of 2005, followed by comments from Steve Jobs in the fall of the 2006, with the official launch in January 2007 and product availability in June 2007.

Google is stirring the pot and will bring priceless branding to itself and its mobile alliance partners.

No wonder why Verizon is considering not missing this train.

Libran Lover

Very disappointed to see Om missing the potential of this one and mistaking it for a PR move to counter what? Facebook ad platform launch of all things! Google’s view and outlook is far broader and goes much more into the future than that!

Come on, Om, shed your blinding disappointment based on preconceived expectations of the gPhone, and see the real potential in this one!

Shakir Razak

Hi Om,

DOA – Dead on Arrival.

In a years time, what advantages, if this was sincere, would it hold?

It seems pointless, as presented, as most apps now run in Java anyway, those that aren’t fundemental, and already established.
So the concentration on OS/Platform isn’t as important anymore, unless your thinking about 3rd-world cost-margins, and what microsoft done in tying windows to office, etc.

This looks, at the moment, as quite cynical spin; However, in the long-term, for which they are planning, I think this is simply a beach-head, and getting others to do the heavy-lifting, for the eventual google eco-system on mobile.

And, There will eventually be a “Gphone” with integrated advertising data-streaming.

Also, Don’t forget, that the current iphone and it’s market-aims, are only early toe-testers for apple, it one day, after getting it’s feet wet, and learning how the whole mobile world works, also wants to come into proximity (re: market-share) with Nokia, Though I’ve always said tht it’s Sony that has all it’s ducks in a row.

Also, see my previous comment about the value proposition in your last Gphone post.

Yours kindly,

Shakir Razak

jccodez

I am looking forward to the 3 skype phone in the u.s. Not interested in googol other than their search engine.

techmine

About the mobile experience, Google Apps rock on my iPhone at least. They know what they are doing.

techmine

I agree with all who think that gPhone was always a fantasy of blogosphere (including GigaOM). All the hype and expectations were in the blogs that got spread like a fire with sites like techmeme.com. And now people are cheated/disappointed…for what? Seeing the big picture about the announcement and massive news it is going to generate, I don’t think this is purely a PR stunt to tackle a overly hyped website – Facebook – Om’s take. If google is announcing an open platform (which also means anybody in this world can use it) they better be honest about it otherwise their massive wealth is at stake.

David Jacobs

Everyone’s all pissy because Google didn’t give us an actual phone? Come on! Google isn’t a hardware vendor and they are smart enough to know it.

I think this is a huge announcement and will have significant impact going forward. Google in your pocket, an optimized platform for running mobile Google apps and services. Mobile adsense. It’s not that hard to figure out. Verizon and AT&T not involved? Not yet, but this is an open platform, so they are free to jump in when they feel it’s right for them.

Being an open system, hackers will have a field day with this and it could get some serious traction among the geek community who are so frustrated with the iPhone limitations.

rd

It is interesting that google didn’t say what browser technology is being used. probably WebKit.

What virtual machine. probably LLVM.

Notice no mention of Java or Sun being part of this alliance.

Let see if my prediction comes true.

Markus Göbel's Tech News Comments

Does anybody know if this has something to do with OpenMOKO, the other open Linux cell phone platform? Maybe Android is just the same? How open is Android compared to OpenMOKO?

The latter let’s you manipulate everything to the very core of the mobile phone functions. Yet now there are thousands of great free Linux programs running on the OpenMOKO devices. I would love to see this kind of openness backed by heavy weights like Google and the other mentioned companies.

I think rohit got it right:

i think this is a much bigger potential play
at replacing the whole mobile phone software
stack and aimed at making it truly an information
appliance. think of it as an IP-services led
“phone” design, not a telco-call based device.

It’s a Linux for phones! You can do everything with it, if it’s really open. I already wonder how it cooperates with Google’s Ubiquisys femtocells. I would like to have one at home to channel all my mobile calls trough my 16 Mbps broadband. Well, in fact I do that already over Wifi, also I read websites and listen to the radio with Wifi on my Nokia E61. But it sucks battery so a 3G femtocell would be much nicer.

It annoys very much that my cell phone is not as open and flexible as my PC. Give me a command line to my cell phone and I will be happy!

:)

shashib

I thought Google had a strategy for a phone and it was going to be released in India. This announcement to me is like Sun saying they are releasing a new Java version. We want it but lets take this for granted.

Einar Vollset

I don’t think I’ve ever been as underwhelmed by any announcement from the GOOG as this one. Taking a quick look at the FAQ from the openhandsetc:

“Why is an open platform good for mobile operators?

The overall cost of handsets will be lower and mobile operators will have complete flexibility to customize and differentiate their product lines. Furthermore, they will see much more rapid innovation in handsets and in services.”

Right. My advice: Short GOOG.

Mark

vvb: There are many Java apps that could run on such a platform, but if those apps are hard to install and Java is as hard to find on the platform as it currently is on existing platforms, then Java won’t matter. Much as I love Java, I believe its effect on mobile consumer platforms is vastly overratetd.

Adam Martin {Fat Man}

We’re disappointed because we built up the g-phone in blogs and forums without any substance to our techno musings! Google hasn’t promised one thing and delivered another, it’s simply laid out the facts albeit with a heap of PR spin. In terms of developing low cost handsets for the developing world this is a major step and I’d bet Google has it’s eye on Asia and Africa with this stack platform and not on incumbent operators in US and Europe. Asia and Africa hold the greatest opportunity for mobile developers and with Android (to borrow Om’s cricket analogy), at least they’re proposing a level playing field. It means apps and services have shorter dev times and can be tested in the real world environment.

Savvy marketeers will view this as having 9 months to create innovative applications for this and for emerging platforms such as the iPhone at the other end of the market. By then El Jobs wil have seen the error of his ways and open up the iPhone platform to third party developers, I for one am waiting with imaginary apps for that day!

joe shmoe

@Monal, Om:
MSFT (live), YHOO and GOOG have been striking deals with device makers for QUITE a while now — am I correct in thinking that this approach essentially translates to this: Instead of a deal with manufacturers to distribute GOOG apps on mobile phones, GOOG provides this software stack to them for free (cutting their costs spent on, say, Windows Mobile OS) and in return gets their apps on those devices for free?

There is NO exclusivity to them having only GOOG apps on these devices AFAIK, NOTHING that ties all this to any direct financial gain for GOOG, NO visibility of stupidly-hyped ad-supported free phones. So what if T-Mobile is with them or if Verizon jumps in tomorrow? All that means is GOOG’s OS supported devices would come out — Yes I will be able to have MSFT Live apps on it, YHOO apps on it. No direct tie-in/advantage for GOOG whatsoever, as far as I see it.

Om, your insider checks should really shed some light to all this media-in-bed-with-Google as I see it.

Both OpenSocial and then gPhone have been tremendous disappointments with all signs of irrational excitement and bubble-istic stench.

vvb

there is a tremendous amount of java apps for mobile devices that can be run on android with little or no modification. quality of the browser is a major question…

Mike

What a totally ugly name! Could they really not think of something better? AirOS for example?

rohit

Om,

while some seem disappointed by the lack of ‘g-phonish goodness’ here, i think this is a much bigger potential play at replacing the whole mobile phone software stack and aimed at making it truly an information appliance. think of it as an IP-services led “phone” design, not a telco-call based device.

I am not surprised that the mobile carrier duopoly has not signed on as this low-friction stack could challenge the very existence of the walls in the mobile gardens.

-r

monal

barriers entry can be broken through quickly with brand indentity/loyalty….shoot like at what Apple did with their first entry in the mobile market. I predict they will succeed quite well quickly as long as their OS is as robust as advertised

Brian McConnell

I don’t think this will amount to much. The barriers to entry are very high. Look at how many years and billions Microsoft has invested in Windows Mobile. I think Google is underestimating the difficulty of penetrating this market. It is a technical nightmare because of the proliferation of devices. It is an economic nightmare because of the inefficient channel and conflicting interests of vendors, carriers, etc. Kudos to them for trying, but unless they’re committed for 5-10 years, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of results.

Om Malik

Nuance, please don’t put PR messages in the comments for this is for conversation, not hyping your product. There is a form which you can use to send your press release and if deemed useful i will include it in the post. i hate to be this harsh, you do this one more time, and i am going to have to block you.

you are ruining the fidelity of conversation here with your PR messages

Nuance

“Nuance joined the Open Handset Alliance with other industry leaders to grow the entire mobile ecosystem,” said Steve Chambers, president, mobile and consumer services division, Nuance Communications. “We’re committed to apply our strength and leadership in voice-based search and messaging to move the market forward. By packaging and optimizing embedded speech technology components for open source distribution, we’ve given developers the opportunity to access speech solutions through open APIs using the Android platform and to easily upgrade to new, more advanced speech features as well. We believe deep collaboration with members of the Alliance will grow our core mobile business and fuel the proliferation of speech-enabled applications worldwide.”

Prashant

i think this alliance makes much sense for everyone involved . Nokia has already declared its intentions of becoming a service company . google reached there first .

What interest me more is the similarity between two recent platform launch [ Facebook’s Platform and Google’s Mobile Platform ] . both claim to provide a level playing field for applications . that means Google’s App will enjoy same benefits,access or privilege as of any other app.

Sometime its hard to resist the temptation .We have seen how similar claims were false in Hidden API case of Microsoft .

These hidden API made Micorsoft Apps more responsive than competing apps . it will be interesting to see if Facebook and Google will resist using this for their advantage .

Om Malik

Joe Shmoe,

I agree with you – the grand gPhone isn’t ready and won’t be ready till 2008. What ever is the first thing that comes to mind. I am seriously disappointed and i think this is a spin move.

Anyway will keep you posted on results of my digging around…

joe shmoe

Am I the only one who feels utterly cheated by the media hype and abysmally disappointed by the ‘grand’ gPhone plans as unveiled today? I see mostly NO underlying financial impact to Google and fail to understand the hype, the euphoria, the media frenzy.

Yes, GOOG’s surely in a bubble.

dave

survey: how many ads would you be willing to see on your phone in return for lower access fees (and overall plan charges)?

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