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Google shows touchy-feely Android phone

Search giant shows off Android at its Google I/O conference, including its touch-screen interface and ability to shift a Street View as the user turns around.

SAN FRANCISCO--Google demonstrated some new tricks of its Android mobile phone software, including an elaborate use of Google Maps Street View and a touch-screen interface with abilities known for their presence on Apple's iPhone.

Google Street View panned left and right as the Android phone user turned around.
Google Street View panned left and right as the Android phone user turned around. Click on the image above for an Android slide show. Stephen Shankland/CNET News.com

Steve Horowitz, Android's engineering director, used flicking gestures to sweep from the phone's home screen to another during a speech here Wednesday at the Google I/O conference. More unusual, though was a demonstration of how the phone's internal compass and accelerometer can enliven Street View.

After calling up a view of San Francisco using a Web browser, Horowitz turned around, and the Street View screen panned left or right accordingly, reflecting his orientation.

Also new were demonstrations of a central notification service that can display new e-mail, missed phone calls, and calendar appointments; the ability to unlock the phone using a specific connect-the-dots swipe across the screen; an option to put browser or contact list shortcuts on the Android desktop; and a version of Pac-Man from Namco.

Android consists of a Linux kernel with Java virtual machine technology on top for running software. Google supplies many applications, but it's trying to encourage developers to write their own. Google hopes Android will become an open system on which users can install whatever software they want, though it's not yet clear if phone service carriers will agree with that vision.

Although Android supported the touch screen, there was no support yet for multitouch, which permits two-finger controls such as pinching to shrink a photo. However, Android could accommodate that technology if handset makers use multitouch-capable screens, said Andy Rubin, the Android project leader, in a press meeting after the speech.

"When a hardware developer puts that hardware into the handset, I hope that hardware developer provides the driver," Rubin said.

A view of Google's Android mobile-phone software.
A view of Google's Android mobile-phone software. Stephen Shankland/CNET News.com

Android can use a touch screen, but doesn't need one, Rubin added. "Steve could have given that entire demo driven by a trackball," Rubin said.

Rubin wouldn't be pinned down about when Android phones will ship, only reiterating the commitment to meet a deadline of the second half of 2008. "What you saw onstage looks pretty good, but we want to make sure it's perfect," Rubin said.

In the demo, Android ran on a UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) phone from an unnamed manufacturer, Rubin said. It used a Qualcomm MDM 7201A processor, a Synaptics capacitive touch screen, and a 3.6 megabit-per-second HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) broadband connection.