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The Open Handset Alliance

Enter search advertising giant Google. Now a household name, Google has shown an interest in spreading its brand and suite of tools to the wireless marketplace. The company’s business model has been amazingly successful on the Internet, and technically speaking, wireless isn’t that different.

Google Goes Wireless

The company’s initial forays into mobile were beset with all the problems you would expect. The freedoms Internet users enjoyed were not shared by mobile phone subscribers. Internet users can choose from the wide variety of computer brands, operating systems, Internet service providers, and Web browser applications.

Nearly all Google services are free and ad driven. Many applications in the Google Labs suite would directly compete with the applications available on mobile phones. The applications range from simple calendars and calculators to navigation with Google Maps and the latest tailored news from News Alerts—not to mention corporate acquisitions like Blogger and YouTube.

When this approach didn’t yield the intended results, Google decided to a different approach—to revamp the entire system upon which wireless application development was based, hoping to provide a more open environment for users and developers: the Internet model. The Internet model allowes users to choose between freeware, shareware, and paid software. This enables free market competition among services.

Forming of the Open Handset Alliance

With its user-centric, democratic design philosophies, Google has led a movement to turn the existing closely guarded wireless market into one where phone users can move between carriers easily and have unfettered access to applications and services. With its vast resources, Google has taken a broad approach, examining the wireless infrastructure from the FCC wireless spectrum policies to the handset manufacturers’ requirements, application developer needs, and mobile operator desires.

Next, Google joined with other like-minded members in the wireless community and posed the following question: What would it take to build a better mobile phone?

The Open Handset Alliance (OHA) (Figure 1.5) was formed in November 2007 to answer that very question. The OHA is a business alliance comprised of many of the largest and most successful mobile companies on the planet. Its members include chip makers, handset manufacturers, software developers, and service providers. The entire mobile supply chain is well represented.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 The Open Handset Alliance.

Working together, OHA members began developing a nonproprietary open standard platform that would aim to alleviate the aforementioned problems hindering the mobile community. They called it the Android project.

Google’s involvement in the Android project has been extensive. The company hosts the open source project and provides online documentation, tools, forums, and the Software Development Kit (SDK). Google has also hosted a number of events at conferences and the Android Developer Challenge, a contest to encourage developers to write killer Android applications—for $10 million dollars in prizes.

Manufacturers: Designing the Android Handsets

More than half the members of the OHA are handset manufacturers, such as Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and LG, and semiconductor companies, such as Intel, Texas Instruments, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm. These companies are helping design the first generation of Android handsets.

The first shipping Android handset—the T-Mobile G1—was developed by handset manufacturer HTC with service provided by T-Mobile. It was released in October 2008. Many other Android handsets are slated for 2009 and early 2010.

Content Providers: Developing Android Applications

When users have Android handsets, they need those killer apps, right?

Google has led the pack, developing Android applications, many of which, like the email client and Web browser, are core features of the platform. OHA members, such as eBay, are also working on Android application integration with their online auctions.

The first Android Developer Challenge received 1,788 submissions—all newly developed Android games, productivity helpers, and a slew of Location-Based Services (LBS). We also saw humanitarian, social networking, and mash-up apps. Many of these applications have debuted with users through the Android Market—Google’s software distribution mechanism for Android.

Mobile Operators: Delivering the Android Experience

After you have the phones, you have to get them out to the users. Mobile operators from Asia, North America, Europe, and Latin America have joined the OHA, ensuring a market for the Android movement. With almost half a billion subscribers, telephony giant China Mobile is a founding member of the alliance. Other operators have signed on as well.

Taking Advantage of All Android Has to Offer

Android’s open platform has been embraced by much of the mobile development community—extending far beyond the members of the OHA.

As Android phones and applications become more readily available, many in the tech community anticipate other mobile operators and handset manufacturers will jump on the chance to sell Android phones to their subscribers, especially given the cost benefits compared to proprietary platforms. Already, North American operators, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, have shown an interest in Android, and T-Mobile already provides handsets.

If the open standard of the Android platform results in reduced operator costs in licensing and royalties, we could see a migration to open handsets from proprietary platforms such as BREW, Windows Mobile, and even the Apple iPhone. Android is well suited to fill this demand.

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