Google won’t stop. The search engine is teaming up with more than 30 companies, including phone and wireless giants Motorola, Qualcomm, HTC and T-Mobile, to develop an open platform for mobile devices.
The platform is called Android, after a company founded by entrepreneur Andy Rubin (pictured above, courtesy of NYT), acquired two years ago by Google. The effort is a Google-led product of the Open Handset Alliance, an industry trade group. The alliance hopes a standard, free platform for mobile applications will lead to more mobile innovation — something that has been hampered by the vice-lock held on the wireless sector by giants such as Verizon.
Android includes a Linux-based user interface, some applications, along with middleware and an operating system. It will be freely available under a liberal open-source code license. It intends to give handset manufacturers and mobile operators more freedom in the types of mobile applications they offer consumers.
For more background on the project, read this great article on Rubin, now Google’s mobile engineering leader. A former cofounder of Danger, a startup that built the popular Sidekick phone.
Until now, a number of proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows Mobile have dominated “smartphones” — phones that include web browsing and other complex, data-focuses services.
Mobile operators such as AT&T (not part of the Android alliance) and Sprint (part of the Android alliance) have, in the past, chosen to dictate the phones they offer users. They’ve also been facing increasing criticism for not giving outside developers access on their systems. Most recently, popular gadget reviewer Walt Mossberg likened US carriers to Soviet ministries:
To some extent, they try to replace the market system, and, like the real Soviet ministries, they are a lousy substitute. They decide what phones can be used on their networks and what software and services can be offered on those phones. They require the hardware and software makers to tailor their products to meet the carriers’ specifications, not just so they work properly on the network, but so they promote the carriers’ brands and their various add-on services.
Notably, the majority of leading mobile technology companies — whether manufacturers, carriers or software companies — are not participating in the Open Handset Alliance, and there won’t be any phones on the market that use Android until the second half of 2008.
Considering the challenges, today’s announcement is most of all a public-relations move, as Om notes.
Google has been dominating tech news lately.
The company announced OpenSocial last week, which lets third-party developers access user data on multiple social networks, including Myspace and Bebo, using a common set of application programming interfaces (we’ve covered the news extensively, here and here).
While Android challenges proprietary mobile operating systems like Windows Mobile, OpenSocial challenges Microsoft-backed Facebook’s own developer platform, which has attracted tens of thousands of developers since it launched in May.
Facebook recently released a mobile component to its initiative, so that third party developers can build interactive mobile applications.
No doubt, Google and its many allies will look to integrate the efforts of OpenSocial and Android so developers can build mobile applications that run across devices and social networks. Some obvious names for that project: Open Android or Android Social.
Android’s alliance will begin showing off its software developer kit (SDK) on November 12.