Google unveils plans for Android mobile software platform

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Google on Monday confirmed its long-awaited foray into the mobile phone business by announcing the Open Handset Alliance, a team of thirty three other leading technology and wireless companies who have agreed to share in Google's development of Android, a new open software platform aimed at bettering the user experience on today's mobile devices.

As part of the alliance, the companies will strive to develop technologies that will significantly lower the cost of developing and distributing mobile devices and services. Android is said to be a first step in this direction, and represents software that has been under development for three years now, dating back to a Silicon Valley startup called Android Inc. that Google acquired in 2005. The platform is essentially an integrated mobile "software stack" that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and user applications.

Built on the open source Linux Kernel, Android was conceived from the ground-up to be "truly open" and allow developers to create mobile applications that take full advantage of all a handset has to offer. For example, an application could call upon any of the phone's core functionality such as making calls, sending text messages, or using the camera, allowing for richer and more cohesive experiences for users.

Meanwhile, users will be able to fully tailor their Android-based phone to their interests — they can swap out the phone's homescreen, the style of the dialer, or any of the applications. They'll also be able to instruct their phones to use their favorite photo viewing application to handle the viewing of all photos.

"Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks," said Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. "Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models."

Mobile phone users should not expect the first phones based on Android to surface until the second half of 2008. However, developers interested in the platform will only have to wait a week or so before the alliance unleashes its Android SDK on Nov. 12th.

Handset manufacturers and wireless operators will be free to customize Android in order to bring to market innovative new products faster and at a much lower cost, the alliance said. Meanwhile, developers will have complete access to handset capabilities and tools that will enable them to build more compelling and user-friendly services, bringing the Internet developer model to the mobile space.

"We see Android as an important part of our strategy of furthering Google's goal of providing access to information to users wherever they are. We recognize that many among the multitude of mobile users around the world do not and may never have an Android-based phone," said Andy Rubin, co-founder of Android Inc. and now Director of Mobile Platforms for Google. "Our goals must be independent of device or even platform. For this reason, 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."

Other big names listed as Open Handset Alliance members include Intel, Broadcom, eBay, HTC, Motorola, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments, and T-Mobile.