Google powers up Android OS for phones

There won't be a Google-branded handset - instead the firm is "enabling 1,000 people to build a GPhone"

Google has announced that it is heading up a grand alliance to create custom-made, high speed internet phones based on a new 'Android' platform - "the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices."

The Open Handset Alliance and the Android mobile platform will be a joint project between Google and big-hitters in the mobile world. HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung have all signed on for the ride.

No Google phone

There won't be a Google-branded handset as such. Instead the firm is "enabling 1,000 people to build a GPhone," said Andy Rubin, Google's director of mobile platforms, who led the effort to develop the new Android software. Rather than follow Apple and launch its own hardware, Google is following Microsoft's route and delivering its own mobile operating system.

"This 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 platforms," said the Google PR announcement.

"The Android platform is a fully integrated mobile "software stack" that consists of an operating system, middleware, user-friendly interface and applications. Consumers should expect the first phones based on Android to be available in the second half of 2008."

What's in it for me?

It's easy to see what's in this announcement for Google. It obviously wants to get its apps (and its advertising) into the mobile space and it can't do this without a stable platform. So rather than threaten the handset manufacturers, Google is challenging the established mobile OS providers - RIM, Symbian (Nokia) and, of course, Microsoft.

But what's in it for the consumer? Why would you buy a 'Google phone' over a Windows Mobile device or a Nokia phone powered by S60?

"Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone'. Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models," said Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt.. "A fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future."

A new mobile world

It's a bold claim; and a bolder move by Google. The Open Source approach opens up Android to a wide variety of applications and gives it a flexibility that rival operating systems lack.

"It is an interesting world," commented Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. A year ago, neither Google or Apple was a player in the mobile platform space, today they are two of the most relevant (and discussed) companies (albeit with very different business models). Today's news was just the first shot in what is likely to be a long and protracted fight for the mobile world.