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Google outlines the Open Handset Alliance; Will it succeed?

Google rolled out its mobile plans Monday in a group it calls the Open Handset Alliance, an effort that encompasses the search giant's Android software and a bevy of partners.Andy Rubin, director of mobile platforms at Google, wrote in a post.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google rolled out its mobile plans Monday in a group it calls the Open Handset Alliance, an effort that encompasses the search giant's Android software and a bevy of partners.

Andy Rubin, director of mobile platforms at Google, wrote in a post.

Despite all of the very interesting speculation over the last few months, we're not announcing a Gphone. However, we think what we are announcing -- the Open Handset Alliance and Android -- is more significant and ambitious than a single phone. In fact, through the joint efforts of the members of the Open Handset Alliance, we hope Android will be the foundation for many new phones and will create an entirely new mobile experience for users, with new applications and new capabilities we can’t imagine today.

Rubin's post (Techmeme) covers most of the news that was already leaked. Also see winners and losers in this alliance and the revenue potential. The Android unveiling left more than a few lingering questions. Among them: Where are the big carriers? Is this just a PR move as Om Malik suggests? Can this alliance be managed?

In the meantime here are the key points, conference call highlights and my takeaways:

Key points: 

  • Android includes an open platform for mobile devices and includes an operating system, user interface and applications. It's a mobile bundle "without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation," wrote Rubin.

  • Android is expected to be platform agnostic. Rubin wrote: "Android will complement, but not replace, our longstanding mobile strategy of developing useful and compelling mobile services and driving adoption of these products through partnerships with handset manufacturers and mobile operators around the world."

  • A software developer kit will be available in the next week. Phones will be shipped in the second half of 2008 with Android software. Regarding this kit, the alliance had the following to say in a statement:

The Android platform will be made available under one of the most progressive, developer-friendly open-source licenses, which gives mobile operators and device manufacturers significant freedom and flexibility to design products. Next week the Alliance will release an early access software development kit to provide developers with the tools necessary to create innovative and compelling applications for the platform.

Key points the conference call:

  • Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the Open Handset Alliance will be bigger than the Gphone. The goal is cheaper handsets and a better Internet experience.
  • René Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, parent company of T-Mobile, said the plan is to launch a device based on Android "in the course of 2008." "We see the opportunity to prevent a better than Internet experience on mobile devices," said Obermann, who also talked up social networking and Web 2.0 possibilities. He didn't discuss product plans. You have to wonder if this lineup can succeed with T-Mobile as the sole carrier.
  • Peter Chou, CEO of HTC Corp., said the first Android device will come in late 2008.
  • Motorola CEO Ed Zander said the alliance is about open software and "seamless connected services."
  • Handset makers were asked whether they would continue to use other mobile operating system. Chou said Android is an opportunity to innovate more, but the commitment to other operating systems is the same. Zander said Android is an accelerator for open source development. He added that there is a commitment to other operating systems, but seemed to hint that Motorola was going down the open source path.
  • Rubin said Google will advertise via a Web browser as it does today in the mobile space. Rubin said you won't see a completely ad-driven handset "for quite some time." Android will include a robust Web browser, said Rubin.
  • Were Nokia, Apple, RIM and Microsoft asked to be in the alliance? Rubin said each company in the alliance contributed something. It's open to people that want to join and contribute. Reading between the lines it sounds like those aforementioned parties didn't want to contribute technology.
  • How will new services be different than current Google offering? Schmidt said the big difference is that Google won't have to "shoe horn" in an application because there will be a full featured Web browser on the phone in Android.
  • Is Android a soft phone? Rubin said it's premature to view Google's effort as a soft phone.
  • If there were to be a Google Phone, Android will be a fine platform to run it with. Of course, Google isn't preannouncing anything. Sure sounds like Google isn't ruling a Gphone out.
  • Technical specifications due in a week with the SDK. Rubin did acknowledge that Android is Linux based.
  • Schmidt was asked about the iPhone. He said that Android is designed to be used in new ways in the future on devices that haven't been cooked up. "There will be different mobile experiences," he said.
  • How does Android differ from Symbian? Rubin said the big difference is that Android will be open source.
  • Obermann said it's far too early to forecast volume for the Android-based devices.
  • Schmidt and Rubin were asked if Android devices could be locked down. Schmidt said it's possible, but highly unlikely. Ultimately it's the industry's choice.
  • Android architecture will run well on all data networks. Google's interest in the 700 Mhz wireless auction is a separate issue.
  • The role of carriers and the business model. Google said it wants to partner with handset makers and share in the profits. Obermann said there are additional opportunities for revenue for T-Mobile.

My takeaways:

  • Android is betting big on its yet-to-be-seen Web browser to be the big difference maker.
  • The Gphone will happen. Officials danced around the Gphone way too much. Android will be the basis of the Gphone should it launch.
  • The technical specifications next week will give us a lot more color on this initiative.
  • The wireless carrier business model isn't going to go the way of the dinosaur over Android. That said, this alliance would do a lot better with Verizon Wireless on board.
  • Social media is viewed as a big differentiator with this alliance. Schmidt said OpenSocial will run on Android, but the timing of both announcements was coincidental.
  • It's telling that Nokia, Symbian, Apple, RIM and Microsoft aren't on board. Can this alliance succeed without these folks involved?

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