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Is Google prepping its own Android phone?

Oct 20, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Google will release its own unlocked Android phone for retail sales this fall, says The Street. Meanwhile, a fully open source version of Android called Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is near completion, says,, and eWEEK's Don Reisinger says Apple has plenty to worry about with the existing Google/Verizon alliance.

Google is working with an unnamed smartphone manufacturer to ship an unlocked Google-branded Android phone later this year, writes Scott Mortiz in The Street. What's more, Google will sell the phone through retailers as opposed to carriers, says the story.

The rumor has been given some extra authority by the citing of well-known Northeast Securities analyst Ashok Kumar as the source. According to the story, Kumar learned of the Google phone from Google's design partners, who revealed that the phone will use a Qualcomm processor. This would suggest HTC as the likely partner candidate, says the story.

Kumar was also said to have noted that Quanta is working on a Chrome OS netbook running on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform, and that the netbook is due to ship next summer.

The Google phone introduction would be "disruptive to the wireless status quo," Moritz writes, adding, "By bypassing the carriers, who keep tight controls over the features and applications that are allowed on phones, Google will presumably offer a device that lets users determine the functions."

Then again, maybe it's not such a big deal after all. Shortly after HTC released the first G1 Android phone in late 2008, Google introduced its own branded Android Dev Phone 1 developers version of the phone (pictured). The phone was unlocked, allowing Android developers to work with SIM cards for any GSM/GPRS network. It also let developers more easily modify the system software stack.

The phone was not sold at retail outlets, however, and was priced at $400 and required an additional $25 registration as an Android network member). By comparison, the commercial G1 phone from T-Mobile, was offered for $180 plus contract.

If the new Google phone is simply an upgraded, and similarly high priced, Android 2.0 version of the Dev Phone, Google's new phone may simply be business as usual. However, if TheStreet is correct about retail sales and a commercial product, that would indeed prove to be unhappy news for both Android carriers, and aside from its partner (presumably HTC again), Android vendors. If true, Google may be gambling that the hoopla around Android has reached the point where carriers and vendors would have no choice but to continue with their Android plans no matter what it did.

Android Open Source Project 1.0 ready to roll?

The recent uproar in the open source community about Google's shutdown of the Cyanogen build, an open source Android version of Google's proprietary Apps, highlighted the reality that while Android itself might be open source, the Android distribution typically offered by carriers is not likely to be. The open source code is hopelessly intertwined with non open source Google apps and other proprietary components.

Android developers find it difficult to find a coherent Android build that is purely open source, concludes Linux kernel insider and Jonathan Corbet in Now, however, a group within the Android community is developing a version of Android that purports to do just that, he writes.

According to Corbet, The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is readying version 1.0 of a purely open source build, with the project being led by Google's "most community-friendly representative," Jean-Baptiste Queru. Corbet quotes Queru as saying that the goal is to deliver a version of the Android Open-Source Project that can not only compile and boot on phones, but "be usable as a day-to-day phone."

Currently, says Queru, "the range of applications is too limited, the applications that are in there don't all work, and there are quite a few system glitches along the way." Quero was also said to have noted that "it makes no sense to expect every contributor to have to apply the same set of manual patches to get to a basic working state. Android Open-Source Project should be usable 'out of the box' on commonly available hardware."

Corbet continues this argument by saying that even developers working with the aforementioned Android Dev Phone 1 (ADP1), must "locate a set of proprietary components and incorporate them into the build." The other problem, he notes, is the lack of alternatives to Google's maps, gmail, calendar, and market applications, not to mention the lack of synchronization back-ends which "keep things current with the mothership."

In short, a lot of tinkering is required before the Dev Phone becomes a usable phone. The preliminary AOSP 1.0 aims to handle only the first part of the problem, writes Corbet, or "simply to get to where an Android build just works on the target hardware - the ADP1." The next step — finding open source replacements for Google's proprietary apps — "should not be all that hard," writes Corbet, noting the availability of Android app candidates such as AndNav and SlideME.

The synchronization stage will be harder, Corbet continues. Google's Android project has made it clear that it "is not going to host software developed for reverse-engineered protocols." If Google continues to refuse to make the Gmail, calendar, and market backends available," he writes, "those applications simply will not be supported in free builds. There is, of course, nothing preventing the implementation of applications which synchronize to services hosted elsewhere."

If Google is serious about repairing some of the ill will caused by the Cyanogen crackdown, and other issues, writes Corbet, it should also consider embracing GPLv3 licensing. In the meantime, he notes the efforts of the Open Android Alliance, which is attempting to make a fully free version of Android outside of Google that is licensed under the copyleft-enabled GPLv3.

Google + Verizon = trouble for Apple

In his latest "top-ten" analysis piece, eWEEK's Don Reisinger warns Apple that the recent alliance between Google and Verizon Wireless over Android could prove formidable indeed. In recent days, Verizon teased the public with ads about a new Droid phone (from all accounts, the much-rumored Motorola "Sholes," pictured at right in an image from the Android Guys). The ads provokes Apple directly over alleged limitations to the iPhone compared to the Droid.

According to Reisinger, Apple should indeed be worried. For starters, he writes, Android is competitive with the iPhone, and the Droid looks to be particularly potent. Another advantage for Android is that by encompassing multiple handset vendors, it can more easily experiment with multiple designs. For example, although Android supports a virtual keyboard, it is not tied to it as is the touchscreen-only iPhone. In fact, the Droid and many of the other latest Android phones have moved full circle back to a slider design, although in a way that is not as clunky as the original G1 design.

While Android is far behind the iPhone in apps, meanwhile, it ranks second and is catching up fast, adds Reisinger. Furthermore, the addition of Verizon Wireless's huge network is a big plus, and unlike Apple, Android is not tied to a single carrier, allowing it to grow faster and gain momentum.

Reisinger's advice to Apple: move beyond the exclusive AT&T contract and let your iPhone wings fly.


The Scott Moritz story in TheStreet about Google's plans for its own Android phone should be here.

Jon Corbet's article on AOSP 1.0, "Toward a freer Android," should be here.

The Android Open Source Project may be found here, and a recent post by Jean-Baptiste Queru about AOSP 1.0 should be here. The Open Android Alliance should be here.

The Don Reisinger story in eWEEK about the Google Verizon deal should be here.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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