Google Open-Sources Android on Eve of G1 Launch

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-10-21

Google Open-Sources Android on Eve of G1 Launch

Google and the Open Handset Alliance released the complete Android platform source code, which means you can actually build a phone with the software if you have the chops.

Available free under an Apache license, the Android Open Source Project will allow OEMs, phone carriers or even application programmers to download the code to create mobile devices based on the Linux-flavored Android stack.
Developers can also contribute code to the platform thanks to a set of APIs that allows Android to host applications written by third-party developers.

Wait a minute, you say-Android has been available for a while now, and some third-party programmers have already created mobile Web apps, some of which are available in Android Market. Indeed, there has even been an Android Developer Challenge contest (and winner) for the best mobile application built for Android.

See 10 cool Android apps here.

These things are true. But those apps were created with Android's early SDK (software development kit). Today, Google released the entire Android stack, including the heretofore unavailable network and telephony layers, Google Android Product Manager Erick Tseng told me yesterday.

"You can literally take that entire source code, put it on a piece of hardware, and you'd have a working phone," Tseng said. "You could not have done that before with just the SDK. Whether you're a carrier, an OEM or even just an application provider, you can partner up with a hardware manufacturer and make a phone."

In open-sourcing Android, Google said consumers can expect to see more applications, such as location-based travel tools, games and social networking offerings, as well as cheaper and faster smart phones. Such efforts are already under way: Note Motorola's social networking smart phone based on Android.

Android was announced in November 2007, which means we're less than two weeks shy of singing "Happy Birthday" to it. That may seem like a long time for Google and the Open Handset Alliance to release the complete stack. It clearly is, but Tseng called it "one of the largest open-source efforts ever in the history of open source."

I asked Tseng what he would like to see now that the entire Android stack is available. He told me:

One thing is to see the added contribution to the open source effort. As we began to expand into new geographies, we're going to be looking for all new sorts of functionality, tools and apps that will address the needs of users not just in the U.S. but in Asia and Europe.

Tseng admitted Google timed the complete open-sourcing of Android for the launch of the first Android-based smart phone, T-Mobile's G1. The carrier tomorrow, Oct. 22, is rolling out the G1 in its retail stores and shipping them to consumers who preordered them online.

Expectations Soar for T-Mobiles G1

When asked how many devices he expects T-Mobile to ship, Tseng said he wasn't at liberty to say, which tells me the Android team knows but is sworn to secrecy by T-Mobile. Why not? It's the carrier's product.

Last week, a T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed for me that T-Mobile had tripled the number of phones it initially made available for the Oct. 22 launch and sold them all. 

Most folks seem to believe this is around 1.5 million units, which is great considering Apple's iPhone sold 1 million in 74 days. I've asked T-Mobile if it can accommodate even more units for consumers, but have received no reply as of this writing.

Click here for G1 pictures.

To what do I attribute the uptick in G1 sales? A couple things. First, it's a solid alternative to the iPhone, as AllThingsDigital's Walt Mossberg, New York Times' David Pogue and eWEEK's own Andrew Garcia attested.

Second, I think the iPhone's amazing success has opened the world's eyes to the power of Web-based phones, and now they are expecting different, but not necessarily superior, smart phone experiences. The G1 seems to provide that. Enderle Group's Rob Enderle, who tested the device last week, agreed and told me this:

"It's a good phone, and it is more exclusive than the iPhone at the moment, and one of the few 3G phones for T-Mobile users, all of which help sales significantly. The iPhone also helped blaze the trail by making those that preferred T-Mobile but wanted something like the iPhone desire the G1. It shows potential for the platform as well and suggests that it will do very well as it matures and as better-looking phones come out. Android has legs, and it is a nice piece of work."

All of this begs the question: If Android is as cool as folks perceive it to be, will other carriers hop onboard? Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence, told me the early sell-out of preorders will force other carriers to accelerate their Android development efforts.

After all, while the pie may be huge, it may be juiciest right now with the holidays coming and before we slide into a more prolonged recession.

"If it's as aggressively priced as it is and it's pretty good, people will buy it because people don't want to switch to AT&T," Sterling added, alluding to AT&T's sketchy 3G network experience for the iPhone 3G.

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