Wireless Week: Android’s coming out party

Thu, 09/18/2008 - 8:20am
Brad Smith (with additional reporting by CED staff)

It isn’t exactly big news since word had leaked out more than a week earlier, but T-Mobile USA has called a news conference in New York City for Sept. 23 to formally announce the first Android phone.

Google, the force behind Android and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), has been showing the phone at public events. Most recently, it was at the Google Developer Day in London on Monday. The FCC certified the phone in mid-August and speculation has been flying since then about the launch plans.

The first Android phone, called the Dream in FCC filings, is made by HTC. The phone also apparently will go on sale Oct. 20, although T-Mobile USA hasn’t confirmed that date. The phone has a touchscreen, which apparently is larger than Apple’s iPhone, plus GPS and Wi-Fi, and it will use T-Mobile USA’s new 3G network.

Joel Espelien, strategy vice president for OHA member PacketVideo, told Forbes Magazine the Dream will process fun applications faster than any phone on the market because the operating system (OS) was built as a multitasking workhorse from the start. Other phone operating systems use older technology that slows them down, he said.

OHA members include other handset manufacturers beside HTC, including Motorola, Samsung and LG, so more Android phones are in the pipeline. Sony Ericsson, although not an original member, also reportedly is looking at Android. If true, Nokia would be the only one of the top-five handset OEMs not using the OS.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that the first mobile phone to use Android will cost $199. That would match the price of Apple’s iPhone, sold by AT&T.

What has garnered so much attention for Android, besides being pushed by Google, is that the OS is being offered free of royalties. The members promise true openness to any developer, with a fully integrated mobile software stack that includes the OS, middleware, a user-friendly interface and applications.

Although some critics have said Android is late, the OHA and Google have only said that the first phones would arrive in the second half of 2008. Rich Miner, Google’s mobile platforms chief, told Wireless Week only that there would be “at least one” Android phone by the end of the year, and that there would be multiple handsets in 2009.

Miner said the first Android phone will be tightly integrated with some Google applications, but that future models may not be. Google does not want the phone known as the G-Phone, nor the applications, to be only Google, he said.

Miner said there have been more than one million downloads of the Android SDK since it was made available earlier this year.

Asked if Google’s new Chrome browser would be part of the handset, Miner would say only that Chrome and the Android browser both leverage the open-source WebKit browser.

Android will make location-based services easier to use than traditional phones, Miner said, because location will be integrated with other applications in the phone. One example is that the contact addresses in the phone can be mapped on the Android phone using Google Mobile Maps.

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