Google's Android mobile platform is raising more eyebrows for what it isn't than what it is.
For one, Android is not the elusive Google Phone that has been rumored for several weeks, but a Linux-based software stack, which includes an operating system, browser interface, middleware and applications.
Developers will be able to crack into a software development kit next week for Android, which has assets that are licensed under the Apache version 2 license. Expect the first Android-powered handsets in late 2008.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt neither confirmed nor denied a Google Phone was in the works on a conference call to announce Android Nov. 5. Schmidt did promise that Android would be a completely open, cost-effective and efficient way for developers to write applications for mobile phones.
Valuable? Sure, in theory. But the Open Handset Alliance, which includes Google and 33 various and sundry technology companies bent on making sure Android is a success, is missing some household names in the wireless sector, analysts claim.
For starters, neither AT&T nor Verizon have joined, sparking speculation that the top two U.S. carriers aren't simpatico with the notion of Android.
Their absence underscores the notion that phone carriers avoid such groups because they would rather keep their networks and the devices that run on them close to their monied vests.
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"They really need to have at least one of those guys to make the alliance work in the U.S.," said Matt Booth, senior vice president and program director for interactive local media at The Kelsey Group. Booth added that he believes Verizon is close to an agreement to join the Google-led alliance.
However, close is not good enough at this stage. IDC analyst Karsten Weide said for now the impact of the alliance will be limited because of who is not part of the alliance. In addition to the absence of AT&T and Verizon, Vodafone and France Telecom have not thrown their hats into the Android ring.
But the glaring absences don't end with the carriers. Leading phone maker Nokia, which sells roughly a third of the handsets worldwide and uses the Symbian operating system in its devices, is not part of the alliance.
Moreover, the handset players that have joined have not pledged exclusivity to Android.
"It's really time to focus on growing the pie instead of focusing on how we cut that pie up and therefore there really is the potential for many different operating system and operating environments to be supported on handsets," said Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs on a conference call to announce Android and the alliance Nov. 5.
Moreover, Weide said Android has an uphill battle against leading mobile operating system Symbian, which Gartner claims has roughly 70 percent of the market. Linux has about 15 percent of this market, with Research in Motion and Microsoft each owning roughly 5 percent.
People will buy the Google phone. Click here to read more.
"What all of this means is that there are billions of devices of them and none of them are from the Open Handheld Alliance," Weide said, adding that such industry alliances are notoriously hard to make work. "This can only work if there is a lot of consumer uptake and traffic to sell advertising, which will mean more revenue that can go around for the players involved in this."
So, how will Android and the Open Handset Alliance shake out?
Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said Android and the alliance are interesting because they show an effort to create some commonality in a sea fragmented by multiple operating systems.
However, he said he wasn't sure the initiative has enough controls to ensure that platform fragmentation won't occur en masse. For example, Dulaney said the group doesn't require developers to use the same type of Linux software.
"Until Google is willing to enforce some rules, this may create a very fragmented platform," Dulaney said.
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