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Google announces Android and the Open Handset Alliance - but no Gphone

 Open Handset Alliance 5th November 2007

In the UK, the Fifth of November is a traditional time for fireworks, so perhaps it is apt that Google decided to launch a couple of rockets of its own, with the announcement of the Open Handset Alliance (see website) and the Android platform. Many people thought that Google would be announcing it's own rival to the iPhone, but the rumoured "Gphone" was really just a rumour after all. In reality, Google's announcement is much closer to our prediction this spring.

The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) [logo pictured right] consists of a number of very high-profile companies. Involved are the handset manufacturers HTC, LG, Samsung and Motorola, along with technology firms Intel, Broadcom, Marvell (who manufacture Xscale processors), Qualcomm, SiRF (GPS products), carriers T-Mobile, Telefonica, Telecom Italia and Sprint, plus Google and eBay and a variety of other partners.

Noticeably missing from the line-up are Nokia and Microsoft, and these two omissions bring us to Android. This isn't just an operating system - the Linux-based Android platform also consists of a "middleware" layer to make it easier to write applications and have them work with each other. Software components can be swapped in and out, and Android is designed to make it possible for small-scale developers to write their own programs to run on an Android-capable handset. This also means that Android competes directly against Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system, and the Nokia-led Symbian platform.

 Android It's not the first time that this approach has been tried - the OpenMoko Neo1973 is also designed to be an Linux-based open software platform, and OpenMoko even encourage hardware modification of their handsets. And it's worth pointing out that the approach that the Open Handset Alliance have taken is almost the exact opposite of Apple's tightly controlled iPhone device.

Google is definitely one of the leading partners, but what exactly is in it for them? Google's motivation is probably twofold - one is to challenge arch-rival Microsoft (and to a lesser extent, Nokia) in the mobile operating system arena. The other is to create a platform that Google can easily build its own ad-supported applications on - essentially as we thought when the rumours first started.

Android-based devices are likely to be quite a way off.. the Open Handset Alliance will be previewing the Android developer's kit later this month, and the first devices may well be launched sometime in the second half of 2008. Of course, that's an age away when it comes to handset design, and Android may well find itself competing against the forthcoming Nokia touchscreen phones and maybe even the iPhone 2. Who knows?

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