The worst-kept rumor in the tech industry became reality on Monday, when Google and a host of hardware, software, services, and carrier partners announced the Open Handset Alliance, a wide-ranging industry group that will bring Google's mobile phone platform (code-named Android) to market in late 2008. Android is an open platform for smart phones that Google says will lower costs and speed innovation. The heady list of partners signed on to make this platform a reality suggests the company might just have a shot at making that happen.
"We're enabling an entire industry to create thousands of gPhones," Android Director Andy Rubin says, referring to earlier rumors suggesting that Google would release its own phone. Rubin says, "We have a collection of great partners" that will make that happen. In other words, Google isn't releasing a single phone. But the company does expect for there to be thousands of Android-based phones on the market within a few years.
Google describes Android as the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. Android consists of a Linux-based OS layer, a UI, and all of the software applications required for a mobile phone. What's missing are the "proprietary obstacles" that have slowed innovation in the mobile space, according to Google, a situation that can be seen most clearly in Apple's original decision to lock down the iPhone and in the amount of time it takes Windows Mobile phones to come to market after a new OS release is finalized.
Google's goals for Android are impressive: Google seeks to make Android the standard mobile platform for the entire industry, thus eclipsing industry leaders such as Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, and Research in Motion. Google is doing so with more than 30 high-profile partners--all of which are already leading players in the phone industry--such as Motorola, HTC, T-Mobile, and Qualcomm. Google is also careful not to cause any huge rifts in the industry: It recognizes that some companies might never adopt the Android platform, so Google will continue to release mobile services and applications that work on other mobile platforms going forward. Android, Google says, is complementary to that work.
With Google CEO Eric Schmidt on the Apple board of directors, one gets the idea that Apple was aware of the Android announcement before it happened, which explains why the company so spastically announced recently that it would reverse course in 2008 and open up the iPhone to outside developers. To date, however, Apple has worked strenuously to combat developers that have written applications for the iPhone, and an upcoming 1.2 software update is expected to include further blocks against outside development. I find Apple's work here to be in sharp opposition to the open platform that Google is pushing with Android. Innovation can and should come from a variety of sources and not just from a single company.