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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 November 2007, 11:39 GMT
Q&A: Google's Android

Google has launched an open operating system for mobile phones, called Android. It has also formed an Open Handset Alliance with 33 partners, promising "better, cheaper" mobile phones.

What is Android?

Android is a series of software tools built by Google designed to power a next generation of mobile phone handsets.

The tools are based on Linux - and so are open source and free to use. It means any one can develop software for the platform and that Android itself can be tailored for individual phones, networks and potentially users.

What is the Open Handset Alliance?

Thirty four companies, including Google, have formed an alliance to promote Android and to develop features and handsets to take advantage of the platform.

Companies include handset manufacturers such as LG, HTC, Motorola and Samsung, chip firms such as Qualcomm and mobile networks like T-Mobile and China Mobile.

What is different about Android?

Google is stressing the open nature of the platform. Operating systems on current phones - such as Windows Mobile, RIM, Symbian and Palm - are proprietorial and have to be licensed for use. Google believes it will be easier and quicker to develop new applications for Android than the other systems.

What kinds of features and phones will we see?

That is the big question. Google and its partners believe that the new phones will make the internet experience on a mobile "better than on a PC".

But they have given little details about how this will be achieved, except to say Android includes an advanced web browser.

Most mobile web experiences are hampered by the limitations of the browser and screen resolution of the handset.

But devices such as the Apple iPhone and Nokia N800 - which are not powered by Android - are already showing the potential for a PC-like experience on a mobile device.

Google and partners have said the new phones will be able to make web experiences, such as video, sharing content and social networking, much easier on a handset.

The first phones are not due until the second half of 2008 but developers will be able to get a look at the Android tools from next week.

Will my current phone work with Android?

No. You will have to buy a new phone that is running the Android platform.

Does that mean current phones are obsolete?

Not at all. Rival platform systems, such as Symbian, Palm, Windows Mobile and Blackberry, will continue to exist on an ever expanding array of devices. The companies behind all these platforms say they are also working on more accessible web experiences on future devices.

What has the reaction been to Google's big jump into mobiles?

Mixed. Analysts are emphasising the impressive partners Google has secured. But it is clear that none of the handset partners in the alliance are ditching deals with existing platforms in favour of Android. Google's system will be part of the mix.

Forrester analyst Charlie Golvin wrote: "Paradoxically, Android will increase complexity for developers initially since it represents yet another platform to support."

Technology writer Om Malik has described the move as a "massive PR move, with nothing to show for it right now".

He added: "The partners - with the exception of HTC and T-Mobile - are companies who are, in cricketing parlance, on the backfoot. Motorola, for instance is not exactly a bastion of handset excellence."

What are the business implications of the Google deal?

It is clear that Linux - the open source operating system - is going to be a big player in the mobile space. Android is based on Linux and there are other Linux-based mobile OSes in existence, such as OpenMoko, LiMo and Qtopia.

ABI Research predicts that Mobile Linux will be the fastest growing smartphone operating system over the next five years.

Linux-based smartphones will account for about 31% of such devices by 2012, the analysts have reported.

Why is Google doing this?

There are more people with mobile phones with access to the net right now than there are PCs with online connections.

This is a massive potential market for Google - and every other online firm - that is yet to be tapped and developed.

Improving the mobile web for all is a rising tide that will float all boats, including the Google battleship.

More people online means more people using Google's services, which means more advertising revenue for the firm.

Google pushes into mobile phones
05 Nov 07 |  Technology
Google targets mobile future
12 Jun 06 |  Technology

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