Rumors have circulated for months that Google is about to release a mobile phone.
And that could still be in the works.
But a much broader alliance, including Google and T-Mobile USA, Motorola and other mobile industry heavyweights, announced this morning that they are coming together to build what they are calling Android -- the first open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices.
"Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks. Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models," said Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt.
There's been some debate for a while on how the mobile phone industry can become more like the PC or Internet industry, where third-party developers can create either Internet or PC applications for consumers at their will. Today, the mobile phone industry is more closed, and most applications need approval by the carrier. I wrote a story about this very subject two weeks ago in San Francisco, where the founder of Facebook challenged the industry to operate more like a platform than a so-called walled garden.
Android is being developed by Google, T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola and others through the Open Handset Alliance.
The news came out this morning, with a conference call at 9 a.m. I will have more details after that as to whether this is what the rumors of a Google phone have been about, or whether this is something separate and much broader that is in the works.
For now, a press release says the alliance shares a common goal of fostering innovation on mobile devices and giving consumers a far better user experience than much of what is available on today's mobile devices. In doing so, they expect to accelerate the pace at which new and compelling mobile services are made available to consumers.
What actually is Android?
The press release says it includes everything in a "software stack," which consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications.
The first phones based on Android are expected to be available in about eight months, or the second half of 2008.
The Open Handset Alliance includes 34 companies. Of the founding members, big names such as Microsoft, Symbian and UIQ are noticeably absent. I think all three of those companies would argue that they have an open platform that developers are welcome to create applications for. I'll try to figure out the difference between Android and what already exists.