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ARM plans Android demonstration at MWC

The chip designer will show off prototype mobile phones running Google's Android software, in a very public display of support for the project.

ARM plans to demonstrate prototype phones based on ARM processors and Google's Android operating system next week, possibly paving the way for the chip designer to join Google's Open Handset Alliance.

It won't be the first Android prototype to get a public airing, but this one will come on one of the biggest stages of the year for the mobile-phone industry. An ARM representative distributed invitations Wednesday to come see and play with the Android prototypes next week in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress.

ARM's technology is found at the heart of almost every mobile phone on the planet. The company designs the processor cores that companies like Texas Instruments, Samsung, and Marvell manufacture into chips that run cell phones and smartphones. But ARM was a curious omission from the initial list of companies that agreed to join Google's Open Handset Alliance when it was announced in November along with the Android software.

Android is based on a Linux kernel that already supports ARM-based processors. Software development for the ARM world, however, can be tricky, which is why ARM has close relationships with all the other mobile-software vendors in the world. Different handset makers utilize ARM's cores in different ways, which makes it a challenge to create software that works consistently across phones from multiple vendors.

When it comes to Google, however, ARM has been taking a wait-and-see approach so far. In some ways, that makes sense as Android is not exactly a finished product. But the promise of Android is something that has to interest ARM: if Google can galvanize the Linux community around its product and deliver a compelling user experience for handset makers and carriers, that just might boost sales of mobile phones using ARM's chips.

And coming off a worse-than-expected fourth quarter, ARM's probably looking for some positive momentum. The ARM representative declined to comment on whether the scheduled demonstrations meant the company would be joining the Open Handset Alliance, but ARM is clearly stepping up its public support for Android before phones using the software arrive later this year.