Wednesday 15 October 2008

Android Takes Form as the H1 Handheld Device is Launched

Nearly a year after the announcement of the Open Handset Alliance, a consortium brought together by Google to advance open source standards for mobile devices, and, in particular, the adoption of the Android software platform, the first mobile handset using the platform has been launched by T-Mobile. Named the "G1" and made by HTC, a prominent Taiwanese manufacturer, the H1 product puts into motion Google's bold attempt to reform the mobile handset market.

Android then ....

The Open Handset Alliance is a consortium of over 30 hardware, software and telecon companies devoted to promoting the open source platform for media devices. The initiative took dead aim at the reliance of proprietary software programs that heretofore controlled the platform for handsets.

The launch of the G1 has been likened to the launch of the Apple iPhone, but the business interests of Apple and Google appear to be quite different. Apple has remade itself into a premier gadget company (I don't go anywhere without loading up at least 10 podcasts on my iPod). As such, Apple will be challenged to continue to come up with new products to maintain its position in the hi-tech marketplace.

Google, by contrast, receives no direct benefit from the sale of the mobile gadgets using the Android program. The common wisdom has been that Google's interest in the Android project is to increase the use of hand-held devices. And why? For the simple reason that Google apparently views the long-term potential for generating ad revenues and the like through the use of Google services on mobile devices to be greater than that of the PC market. If so, for a start, presumably it is Google's hope that other manufacturers and other cell phone operators will join the Android bandwagon.

Android now ...

Some criticism has been leveled at the extent to which the Android platform is truly open. In particular, complaints have been heard that the so-called Software Development Kit for Android applications is not fully open and in fact allows Google some control over the platform. Another criticism heard is that there are certain limitations and restrictions with respect to the use of the Java standard. For someone who last programmed in graduate school using BASIC (that was before Ronald Reagan was elected US President), I am not well-placed to opine on the validity of these claims. That said, they remind me of certain charges leveled against Microsoft regarding the development of applications for its operating software.

More interesting, perhaps, is the extent to which Google intends to enter the mobile handset market itself. There are reports that Google has files for several patents in the mobile telephony area. Further, as I recall, Google expressed an interest in obtaining several access or other rights to broadcasting bandwidth. If so, it will be interesting to see how the broad coalition of companies that have come together in the consortium to promote the open source platform will respond, in the event that Google is viewed as attempting to encroach head-on into their commercial turf.

One thing is for certain. We are viewing only the opening act of the Android saga.

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