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It’s official, but it’s not the ‘Gphone’ – yet. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) CEO and chairman Eric Schmidt just finished fronting a conference call to announce the rumored Open Handset Alliance, a program under which 34 partners have built an open-source mobile operating system. He called it “the first truly open and complete platform for mobile devices” (release here). The OS, codenamed “Android”, will be made available under “the most liberal open source license given to mobile operators ever”, creating “products of many, many different kinds”, Schmidt said.
– Gphone: Schmidt had a caveat: “It’s incredibly important to say this is not an announcement of the Gphone” – rather, there will be “thousands” of devices using this platform. Asked if a Gphone is still being planned: “We’re not pre-announcing anything (but) if you were to build a Gphone, you would build it out of this platform. There are going to be so many other kinds of devices – imagine not just one Gphone but a thousand Gphones as a result of the partnerships.” The door is clearly left open, however – despite Schmidt repeating, mantra-like, “we don’t pre-announce”, in order to have a Gphone, you have to have a suitable platform, he said.
– Why? Schmidt said users want the same experience on their mobile they get on the desktop internet – but Google couldn’t do this alone. Android will be “a whole new mobile experience for users with new applications and experiences that we could not imagine today”. The reasoning is, most handsets don’t have “full-powered internet browsers” … now, “no longer will you have to shoehorn the application in”, Schmidt said. Google’s mobile platform director Andy Rubin said it had “a very robust HTML web browser so there’s really no difference between the browser experience on your phone and your desktop PC”.
– Openness: Google co-founder Sergey Brin, also in on the call, cast his mind back 10 years, when the search site was built using open standards of Linux, GNU, Python, Apache, HTML and HTTP – Android is an attempt to create just such an open-source toolkit for mobile application developers. Interesting to note the push for ubiquitous openness here, against complaints from some developers about the iPhone’s poor Web 2.0 application compatibility – but Schmidt called himself a happy iPhone user and reiterated the point about a burgeoning number of devices.
– Availability: Rubin: “All this software will be available in about one week to developers in an SDK“. Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT) CEO Rene Obermann said T-Mobile would be offering wireless internet and Web 2.0 devices “in the US and in Europe in the course of 2008”, creating a “better-than-internet experience”, while HTC CEO Peter Chou said its first devices would come “in the second half of 2008 with others to follow”.
– Advertising? Don’t expect a Blyk imitator any time soon. Google will monetize Android using plain ‘ol web ads. Rubin: “Contrary to a lot of the speculation out there, you won’t see a completely ad-driven phone based on this platform for some time.”
– Social media: Canny timing, Google’s similarly open OpenSocial platform, encouraging developers to write widgets for its social media properties, was unveiled last week – “this was a coincidence”, Schmidt said; “Google ready products when they’re ready … and the teams were different”. But: “All the applications that are being built for OpenSocial will run extremely well on Android, and will have the benefit of mobility.”
– Manufacturers: HTC may be reliant on Windows Mobile, but Chou said “one size does not fit all” – instead, it’s eyeing “a new category of consumer-based mobile phones”, “our commitment to other operating systems will not be changing”. Despite the prevalence of Google in this announcement, Motorola (NYSE: MOT) CEO/chairman Ed Zander said it’s about “more than just one vendor or product – it’s about open source, devices that are organically connected to the internet”. Qualcomm (NSDQ: QCOM) CEO Paul Jacobs focused on new chipsets that will power media-heavy smartphones that are driven down under $200.