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Google unveils cell phone software and alliance

In much the same way it changed the wired Internet, Google plans to revolutionize the mobile Web through its new open software platform.

Google's cell phone strategy took shape Monday with the announcement of a new open software platform and an alliance of wireless heavyweights that will help form the development community for the planned phones.

Google has long been rumored to be working on software for cell phones that would integrate its applications. On Friday, CNET News.com reported that Google's plans went beyond simply developing software and instead included a whole consortium of companies working to develop an open platform cell phone application.

"Today's announcement is more ambitious than any single 'Google Phone' that the press has been speculating about over the past few weeks," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a statement. "Our vision is that the powerful platform we're unveiling will power thousands of different phone models."

Google officially unveiled Android, the new mobile phone software, during a press conference Monday morning. Thirty-four companies have said they will join the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance that will work on developing applications on the Android platform. Members of the alliance include mobile handset makers HTC and Motorola, U.S. operator T-Mobile, and chipmaker Qualcomm.

The Android platform consists of an operating system, middleware, a user-friendly interface, and applications. Consumers should expect the first phones based on Android to be available in the second half of 2008, Schmidt and others said on the conference call.

The Android software stack is expected to provide handset makers and wireless operators an open platform they can use to develop innovative applications. The new software will compete directly with smartphone software from other companies like Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, and Research in Motion. Unlike some of these mobile operating systems, Android will not be tied to a specific device. Instead, the software will be able to work on a broad array of devices from handset makers such as Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and LG just to name a few.

A 200MHz ARM 9 processor is the minimum requirement for cell phones, said Andy Rubin, Google director of mobile platforms who co-founded the mobile software company called Android that Google acquired in 2005. The platform will be flexible, compatible with small or large screens, keyboards and other input methods, he said.

"The user experience is top notch...We will see when the software development kit is available in a week," Rubin said. "Google will be providing some hosted services that make it very easy for third-party developers to distribute their services and content" via a USB or memory card or "over the air." He added that more information about system requirements will be available when the software development kit is released.

Asked whether Android will be targeted at smartphones or lower-cost phones, Qualcomm Chief Executive Paul Jacobs said the company was focusing on its 7225 chipset and "using that to drive smartphones into the mass market price points under $200."

The idea is that through the developer's alliance, handset makers and cell phone operators will be able to develop more user-friendly services and devices that help bring more of the Internet's functionality onto mobile devices. And because of this open model, the companies involved also hope that by scaling the development, advanced functionality will be able to hit the market for less expensive mobile devices that will have more compelling and rich Internet services with more user-friendly interfaces.

"Our participation in the Open Handset Alliance and integration of the Android platform in the second half of 2008 enables us to expand our device portfolio into a new category of connected mobile phones that will change the complexion of the mobile industry and re-create user expectations of the mobile phone experience." Peter Chou, chief executive of HTC, said in a statement.

Companies in the alliance plan on releasing an access software development kit next week.