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

[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.


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