Google has announced its long-anticipated cellular play: a mobile-phone software stack called Android.
According to a statement released by Google on Monday, Android incorporates an "operating system, middleware [the software that sits between the operating system and applications], user-friendly interface and applications".
The mobile stack is based on open-source software. Phones based on Android are expected to be made available in the second half of 2008.
A new mobile Linux group, the Open Handset Alliance, has been created by Google to develop Android, and it boasts 34 members. The consortium includes operators such as T-Mobile — both its US and European operations — as well as manufacturers such as HTC, Qualcomm and Motorola. Nvidia, eBay and Texas Instruments are also involved, but some major manufacturers such as Nokia are not.
Google's share price has crept up over the past week as rumours on Google's mobility strategy hit fever pitch.
"This partnership will help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world," said Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, on Monday. "A fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future."
"Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks," Schmidt added. "Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models."
Google bought the mobile-software company Android in 2005, but nothing about its ongoing work had been fully apparent until now.
The Java-over-Linux platform at the base of Android — a new implementation of Java for mobile — is apparently much faster than existing implementations of that technology. A full software development kit (SDK) will be made available to Java developers from next week, allowing the community to create a variety of third-party applications.
According to Google: "The Android platform will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licences, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products."
The Linux Mobile Foundation (LiMo) — an industry consortium aiming to create a standardised implementation of mobile Linux — shares many members with the Open Handset Alliance. LiMo's president Morgan Gillis told ZDNet.co.uk on Monday that Google's initiative was "very complimentary to the LiMo initiative [with a] natural dovetailing in terms of technology focus and industry backing."
"I expect Google will use a range of channels in order to access the mobile consumer," said Gillis. "The channel approach has to be quite diverse. In broad terms they will work comfortably with some operators, and they will also seek to leverage their own desktop-based channel to desktop consumers in order to get them across [to Android]."
Gillis explained that Android would have a strong focus on location-based services, through the use of both GPS and triangulation. This will manifest itself in the form of location-based advertising and other services such as mapping.
Although it is likely that some Google-branded handsets may appear, Gillis does not believe the company will not move into the mobile-hardware business. He also said it was unlikely at this point that Android will involve a VoIP component, which is something that could upset mobile operators who are keen not to lose out on voice revenue.
Gillis suggested that operators would be divided in their levels of enthusiasm for Android. "Some operators are very actively developing similar services of their own and they will be reluctant to embrace Google, at least to begin with," he said. "Other operators [such as T-Mobile] who are very well known for their own service offerings have, interestingly, decided to embrace Google."
According to Gillis, Android will have a purely consumer focus, rather than targeting the enterprise market dominated by Windows Mobile, RIM and Symbian. "Although you can access Google services already on [high-end handsets], Windows Mobile is not the handset used by the typical mass-market consumer," he said. "The idea here is to bring a set of really useful mobile-based services to everyday users."
"The internet is somewhat available to mobile consumers, but not in a form optimised for a mobile context, or comfortable for general consumers to use," said Gillis. "This has the potential to significantly raise the bar in terms of the internet experience on the mobile — so whether individual parties are working with Google or not, the whole industry will have to respond."