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Pundits weigh in on Android and the gPhone

Nov 6, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Analysis — Google's open-source, Linux-based Android software stack may do for mobile phones what DOS did for the PC: create a de facto standard riveting developers together in singular purpose. Or, the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) backing Android could become just another “knitting circle,” say industry pundits observing the matter.

It's sometimes tough to tell with open source projects. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. Are the stars in alignment this time?

Much could depend on the commitment of OHA founder and leader Google. Does the search giant really care about phones?

As more consumers get access to 3G phone service (i.e., phone service with broadband-like data rates of 384Mbps and faster) the phone may replace the PC as the top Internet access device within a few years (story). That means Google may have to deal with a new world order, or face at least partial marginalization.

Carriers, meanwhile, have a lot to gain. Services like Google Maps and Local Search — and even good ol' Google search itself — could incent more users to subscribe to data plans. That increases ARPU (average revenue per user), in turn helping mobile phone executives realize the full potential of their incredibly over-valued bonus income structures.

So, it's tempting to say, “Google and the carriers need one another, and Linux will provide the common foundation for their mutual self-interests.”

There are two gotchas, though.

One is that ubiquitous WiMAX and WiFi coverage, combined with dual- and tri-mode phones could ultimately bring Google's Internet services to users for free or for very little, letting them bypass pricey carrier data plans altogether. To some extend, that's already reality for metro-area users willing to pay for and carry around large, expensive smartphones.

The other gotcha is: when was the last time you observed true cooperation among a large group of global heavyweights? It isn't as if the OHA represents a new approach, really, is it?

Bill Weinberg, long-time industry observer, put it like this on his new blog:

Google and its presumed partners in the “Open Handset Alliance” join a bevy of consortia, commercial software providers, and handset OEMs vying to specify, build, and market a ubiquitous Linux-based platform. Consortia contributing to a nascent mobile Linux definition include The LiMO Foundation [story], The Linux Phone Standards Forum (LiPS) [story], Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF) [story], Gnome Mobile and Embedded (GMAE) [story], [story], and the Mobile Linux Initiative (MLI) [story] of my host for this blog, the Linux Foundation.

The insightful Andreas Constantinou, meanwhile, blogs it like this (in part):

The Open Handset Alliance is another alliance designed to bring openness to the world (like OMTP, LiMo, LiPS, GMAE, the MontaVista partner program, Trolltech's Greensuite alliance & integration project, and many more). If it weren't for the G company, it would probably be discounted as slideware.

Ultimately, though, Constantinou concludes that Android and the OHA are (among other things) a breakthrough. Using the same infallible logic used nowadays to rate U.S. presidential hopefuls, he writes, “It's the first time a mobile Linux stack gets a major long-term partner. No other stack can come close to the multi-billion cash reserves that Google amasses.”

Weinberg, meanwhile, takes a more salt-enriched view, concluding, “The Android platform and the accompanying Open Mobile Alliance may constitute another Linux “knitting circle,” or could represent the tipping point for mobile Linux and a unifying force in a fragmented space. In either case, having a company like Google with a visible commitment to Open Source behind Linux in mobile raises the atmospheric pressure. Expect bright sunshine on mobile Linux today and for the rest of the year.”

We couldn't agree more.

Henry Kingman

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