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Android skips Barcelona's mobile-phone party

Several phones using Google's Android operating system are under development. But they weren't generally in evidence at Mobile World Congress.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

The GMSA Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona could have been a great place for Google to demonstrate progress establishing Android in the industry, but instead the open-source operating system showed only a slightly larger toehold.

Google has high hopes for Android, which the company launched in an effort to spur smartphone development, mobile use of the Web, and new search advertising. Although Android certainly isn't vaporware, and Google's clout makes the effort a serious challenge to other operating systems, so far Android's potential exceeds its real-world presence.

HTC's Magic is the second Android-powered phone to hit the market.
HTC's Magic is the second Android-powered phone to hit the market. HTC

The biggest Android news from the show was the debut of the HTC Magic. This new Android model is the second Android model from the Taiwanese company; the first, HTC's Dream, is better known as the T-Mobile G1.

The Magic has a touch-screen keyboard, like the Apple iPhone and unlike the Dream's physical keyboard. Vodafone will offer the Android phone as the exclusive supplier in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and France, and as a nonexclusive supplier in Italy.

The Magic also made a cameo in a Google demonstration of a high-powered, offline-capable version mobile Gmail.

The next tidbit came with Huawei Technologies' mock-up of an iPhone-like Android model. Although that system wasn't actually running any software, Edward Chen, leader of Huawei's device business unit, said the company expected them to be on the market in the third quarter of 2009.

After that, though, it was slim pickings, though Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Garmin all have committed to releasing Android devices this year. Samsung decided against showing off its Android phone. Meanwhile, Microsoft showed off its forthcoming Windows Mobile 6.5, due in the fourth quarter.

Rich Miner, leader of the Android effort, wasn't worried about the relative lack of Android phones.

"We think we are very much on track. We only released the open-source code late last October," Miner said in an interview. "We said we'd have the release software out in 2008 and we did. We said we'd have at least one phone out in 2008, and we launched that in October."

Designing phones takes time, he added. "If you understand anything about the design cycle for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to build handsets, it takes a good 12 to 18 months to go from paper to completion. And there are many handsets in development now. The second phone has been announced and we expect to see more throughout the year," Miner said.

Android shows in smartphones with a lot of computing muscle today, but Miner also promised that Android would move into more mainstream phones next year.

"The vision long term is to take this down market, but this is the first version and we wanted it to be best-in-class and to come out with a bang. In terms of going down market, we'll probably start to see lower-end smartphones and higher-end feature phones using it in 2010," Miner said. "The key thing to remember is that this release is 1.0 of the software. We're very happy with the first and second phones that have come out."

CNET News staff writer Maggie Reardon contributed to this report.