Androids and mindless robots

Google hits the handset space with something not entirely new, while the iPhone bandwagon rolls ever onwards

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By  Mark Sutton Published  November 6, 2007

So the rumoured Google phone turns out not to be an actual phone, but is in fact Google's very own mobile phone operating system, named Android.

Given Google's apparent megalomaniac urge to control every single aspect of the web, it perhaps shouldn't be a surprise that the company has chosen to target as many mobile devices as it can rather than just put out its own, but what's Google's Android going to mean for mobile markets?

The claim from Google is that by making an open source O/S, it will make it easier and quicker for mobile manufacturers to create new devices and for developers to create applications for the phone. That's a claim that Symbian, Nokia, Microsoft et al would no doubt refute.

It's also noticeable that many of the handset manufacturers that Google has rounded up for its Open Handset Alliance, aren't exactly at the leading edge of mobile R&D - for many of them, a cheap software stack and ready-made developer community would definitely be a bonus to their hardware offerings, but for the developers themselves, Android will be just another O/S that they have to account for.

Long term the picture gets more interesting. There's no doubt that Google understands the web, and many of its applications, such as maps, are already getting pushed out as part of mash-up mobile apps. The big question is if Google will continue to make its new applications available for all mobile developers, or if they will be channeled just to its own platform; also if it can make its web expertise stick in the tricky world of mobile. The mobile phone is almost certainly the next big battleground, but what works on a desktop is not the same as what works on a handset, and there are plenty of failed projects (WAP anyone?) to prove how difficult it can be to tailor applications and content for mobile.

At least the news from Google keeps Apple's iPhone from the headlines for a brief while. The iPhone hits the UK and Germany on Friday, and Apple hackers have already vowed to unlock the phones for use with other sim cards within hours of the European launches.

For what it's worth, I say ‘Go ahead Apple fan boys, unlock away!'

Unlock the iPhone if you want a device that won't be supported by Apple in any way at all. Unlock it if you want a phone that is likely to be turned into a beautifully designed, but completely useless paperweight the first time you try and update the software. Pay a fortune for a grey market phone and then watch as Apple chops $200 off the retail price within two months of launch - hell - get an unlocked phone if you prefer old, slow EDGE technology over true 3G connectivity.

The latest iPhone development, which is not from Apple, to be fair, but from a third party, is little plastic finger sheaths that stop the touchscreen getting smudged and greasy. If you've paid a small fortune for an iPhone, then you'll want to keep it looking box fresh. But I'm not sure rolling on a pair of rubber fingers every time you want to make a call fits anyone's definition of useability. Still, so long as its got an Apple logo on it...

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