Google's Android 'opens up' the smart phone

With the hype surrounding Apple's iPhone 3G launch in Canada, not to mention Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Mobile, one might think there's hardly room for yet another contender in the highly competitive smart-phone space.
Google would beg to differ.
The web-search giant's much-hyped Android mobile phone platform is about to roll out in the U.S. on Oct. 22, beginning with the HTC T-Mobile G1 handset ($179 U.S., with two-year contract). Now before you ditch your existing phone, bear in mind the G1 will only launch in the U.S. initially (as was the case with the iPhone), but phone manufacturer HTC says Canadians can expect an Android-powered handset "sometime in '09."

Here's why it might be worth the wait.
The G1 has a large touch screen that resembles an iPhone, but it also sports a BlackBerry-like trackball and slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Unlike other platforms, though, Android has an open operating system: Google is giving away the software to developers.
Google wanted Android to be innovative. "There was no good reason why it shouldn't do things your PC can do," Erick Tseng, product manager for Android at Google Inc., told The Gazette. "This isn't just about Google, but rather the amazing third-party applications created by developers with unfettered access to the phone's hardware, software and network.
"By bringing many world-class applications to your handset, we're empowering consumers with choice, and this is the kind of revolution we're hoping for with Android," Tseng says.
The G1 includes a built-in compass, an industry first, which will allow a savvy software company to create a "mash-up," suggests Tseng, by fusing this technology with the integrated Google Maps program for better driving directions, satellite imagery and navigation to local businesses.
Other installed applications at launch include: ShopSavvy for comparison-shopping; Amazon MP3 Store for downloading music over Wi-Fi; Ecorio to track your daily travels and see your carbon footprint; and BreadCrumbz to create and share a step-by-step visual map using photos.
The more open playing field will encourage innovation and competition, says Carmi Levy of AR Communications, a Toronto technology marketing communications firm.
RIM's BlackBerry, Apple's iPhone and Microsoft's Windows Mobile are mainly closed environments. "If you've wanted to introduce a new phone, new software or new services to the wireless market, it's been an expensive, complex process," says Levy, a senior vice-president of strategic consulting. "You either play by the rules imposed by the telecommunications carriers and handheld vendors, or you don't play at all."
Android drops a lot of that overhead and eliminates many of the costs of working with closed platforms. "It's the same kind of thinking that's driven development of the Linux operating system," Levy says. "Only this time, it's being backed by the world's most successful technology company."
The G1 is built to be intuitive and fast. "Without a really great user experience, you don't have anything, so along with incredible speed, we also believe interacting with your device should be simple" Tseng says.
Most phones chirp or vibrate when a message comes in and then you need to look at your phone to figure out what happened: "Was it a voice mail? Email? Text message? Calendar reminder?
"With the G1," Tseng says, "I can use my fingertip to pull down the status bar and immediately see and access a list of what happened."
Finally, accessing Google's dozens of applications that live in cyberspace - a.k.a. "cloud computing" - will also be part of Android. Cloud computing is appealing to anyone afraid of losing the handset (and potentially exposing sensitive info). An online-only model means you can log on from virtually any PC (or smart phone) to access your digital life.
"Along with the HTML browser that looks like a PC browser, and the fact users can quickly access an array of Google apps, such as Gmail, Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Google Maps, an advantage is the information is automatically synced with that cloud," Tseng says.
You can meet a new person at a meeting, add him or her to your contacts on the Android phone, and it will wirelessly sync with your online accounts, showing up on your home or office PC, too. "If you lose a non-Android phone, the experience could be disastrous - now you simply get another device, log in and sync it and you'll have everything back" says Tseng.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008
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