Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Google Unveils Mobile Vision; An Open Platform Named Android

BoSacks Speaks Out: I don't have the stats here with me, but the ratio of mobile phones to computers is something like 4 to1. There are 4 mobile phones for every computer. Please read this article and hold that stat in your head.

"There are two kinds of statistics: the kind you look up and the kind you make up"
Rex Stout (English Writer, 1886-1975)

Google Unveils Mobile Vision; An Open Platform Named Android
by Mark Walsh

HOPING TO SPUR THE GROWTH of the mobile industry as it did the Internet, Google on Monday announced the launch of a new mobile software platform aimed at opening up and simplifying the creation of applications and services for the cell phone.
As part of the initiative, Google has forged a broad alliance with more than 30 mobile operators and handset manufacturers including Sprint, T-Mobile and Motorola to build new devices and technologies that run on Google's Android mobile platform. Noticeably absent from the newly formed Open Handset Alliance were major wireless players including Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Apple.

The first phones using the new open platform that promises a more Internet-like mobile experience won't come out until the second half of 2008. But Google will begin releasing software development tools for Android to programmers next week.

"Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the last few weeks," said Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman and CEO. "Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models."

Schmidt emphasized during a conference call Monday with other alliance members that Google was not announcing the launch of its own mobile device at this point. Rather, the company is providing an open mobile system for handset makers and developers to create new technologies around.

"The fundamental problem that most phones people have today is that they don't have fully powered Web browsers," explained Schmidt, noting that Google so far has to create specially tailored versions of popular applications like search and gmail for mobile devices. Android will encompass a browser that delivers an end-user experience more similar to surfing the PC-based Internet.

Beyond browsing, Google and its partners also envision the new platform powering the development of more advanced Web 2.0-styled applications in areas such as online audio and video, gaming and social networking. "The Android platform, in our view, will be the first to enable those [mobile] applications on a large scale," says Schmidt.

In a similar vein, Google recently led a coalition behind the launch of OpenSocial, an open platform for developing social networking applications. Schmidt acknowledged that OpenSocial would be a good fit with the new mobile platform.

Google and others have complained that for too long wireless operators and manufacturers have maintained their networks as walled gardens, making it difficult to establish industrywide standards and costly for developers to create applications for a variety of different phones.

Through its mobile initiative, Google aims to break down those traditional industry barriers by reducing development costs and standardizing platforms.

Now many of the wireless companies that have viewed Google as a potential threat are seeking to find a balance between competing and working with the search giant.

"We see the Android platform as an exciting opportunity to launch robust wireless Internet and Web 2.0 services for T-Mobile customers in the U.S. and Europe in 2008," said Rene Obermann, chief executive of Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile, which has already partnered with Google in Europe.

Bill Huang--general manager of China Mobile Research Institute, the research arm of China Mobile--said during the conference call that the company would use Android to extend more choices to its 340 million customers. "An open platform is the key to delivering the best mobile applications and Internet experience," he said.

When it came to new business models emerging from the alliance, however, Google and mobile executives were more tight-lipped. Schmidt foresees ad revenue-sharing deals developing between Google and wireless companies.

"We're likely to want to enter into such agreements with handset partners because sharing ad revenues produces a better overall ecosystem," he said. "I think it's highly likely we could do it."

Deutsche Telekom's Obermann agreed on sharing ad revenue, but said the alliance would not change its basic subscriber business model. "Who pays for what will remain in place," he said. Exactly how far T-Mobile and other companies are willing to open their offerings under the new partnership remains to be seen.

Verizon Wireless and AT&T, which haven't joined the Open Handset Alliance, have previously been hesitant to add Google apps to their service menus. AT&T also powers Apple's iPhone. Apple, which also isn't on board with Google, recently said it would begin opening the iPhone platform to third-party developers.

Google watchers have speculated for months about the company's plans for expanding into the mobile industry. Rumors surfaced earlier this year that the search giant might come out with its own Google phone to take on Apple's iPhone and devices from other manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung.

Anticipation was heightened in July when Google said it might bid in the upcoming 700Mhz spectrum auction, and pushed the Federal Communications Commission to adopt open access rules that would allow any mobile application to run on any device or network within the 700 band.

On Monday, Schmidt said that its potential participation in the wireless auction and its launch of Android were unrelated. "Android will run well on all of the existing data networks," he said.

More recently, Google had reportedly been in talks with Sprint, Verizon Wireless and Vodaphone about adding its services to their phones. Sprint had announced in August that it would provide Google Search to subscribers using a new network it's building based on Wi-Max, an emerging mobile broadband technology.

Mark Walsh can be reached at

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