After months of speculation, Google has finally announced—no, not the much-anticipated Gphone, but an operating system for mobile phones. Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms, whose company Android that Google bought in 2005 is both the basis and name of the new platform, just posted a bit on it, though a conference call with more details starts in a few minutes. (Silicon Alley Insider is liveblogging the call.) But if a phone seemed threatening to the current state of mobile affairs, this looks even more sweeping. As Rubin says:
Despite all of the very interesting speculation over the last few months, we’re not announcing a Gphone. However, we think what we are announcing — the Open Handset Alliance and Android — is more significant and ambitious than a single phone. In fact, through the joint efforts of the members of the Open Handset Alliance, we hope Android will be the foundation for many new phones and will create an entirely new mobile experience for users, with new applications and new capabilities we can’t imagine today.
Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications — all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation. We have developed Android in cooperation with the Open Handset Alliance, which consists of more than 30 technology and mobile leaders including Motorola, Qualcomm, HTC and T-Mobile. Through deep partnerships with carriers, device manufacturers, developers, and others, we hope to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform. We think the result will ultimately be a better and faster pace for innovation that will give mobile customers unforeseen applications and capabilities.
As I listen to the call, a string of sometimes self-serving comments from some of the partners, this strikes me for now as mostly a publicity event. After all, no phones based on this will be available until well into 2008. And conspicuously absent are Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon, among others. (Like Apple, on whose board Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits, European mobile platform provider Symbian, Microsoft, Blackberry maker Research in Motion….)
So it remains to be seen whether this will have a huge impact. Matter of fact, answers to a question on whether the partners will stop developing for other mobile platforms indicated no such plans. Peter Chou, CEO of Taiwan handset maker HTC, said he hopes this will push the entire industry to open up to more innovative applications. So while the effort is real—a software development kit will be available in a week—it seems clear that this is also a club to hammer carriers into opening up. If that happens, it would be victory enough for Google. And more important, for the rest of us.