In unveiling its 30-member Android platform alliance on Monday, Google demonstrated that it can attract a following even from potential competitors like Sprint and T-Mobile while keeping major wireless service providers AT&T and Verizon Wireless on their toes.
Google headlined partners T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm and Motorola in the announcement, which helped set the table for the 700 MHz spectrum auction in January. Google's chairman Eric Schmidt has said the firm will "probably" bid in the auction, if it is "open" enough. As for openness, Google company is calling the Android platform "the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices."
"Google is picking holes in the traditional hegemony of telecommunications providers," said Google analyst and author Stephen Arnold in an interview. "This is just using what Google's already got. There will be much more to come."
The eagerly-awaited announcement demonstrated that Google can attract supporters to its effort even when they appear to be at cross-purposes with each other. Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile is already offering Apple's iPhone in Germany and Google-supported mobile phones one day will likely compete with the iPhone. Qualcomm and Motorola already supply several products to different service providers, some members of the alliance, some not. Even Google's chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt could be accused of working at cross purposes: he is also on the board of directors at Apple.
In noting there wasn't anything dramatically new in the announcement, Arnold pointed out that Google is already working its way into cell phone service providers with its mobile applications all over the world. For example, Google supplies e-mail service to Japan's KDDI users, it funds Wi-Fi networks provided by Fon and BT, and it has a series of cooperative deals with Orange.
Arnold, managing director of Arnold IT, said a particularly important Google test -- and most of its efforts are still in the test stage, he said -- is a mobile phone payment service with Malaysian banks. "If you're in a third-world country where there aren't many credit cards, a mobile payment system" can be important, he noted.
"Google has a bunch of inventions in the 30 MHz spectrum and below," said Arnold, who studies the search engine firm's patents and technical papers for insight into its future plans. "Success in getting 700 MHz spectrum would help get (transmissions) through walls."
Conspicuous by their absence at the Android announcement were Apple, Microsoft and Nokia -- all major players with either strong positions in telecomm or with strong aspirations to become major players in the field.
Sprint was the only pure U.S. telecommunications company to join the alliance. Sprint had embraced many Google mobile Features last July.
The long-rumored Google mobile phone didn't make an appearance at the announcement, but Andy Rubin, who has been directing Google's mobile phone project, said if there will ever be a Google phone, the Android platform -- which offers a full browser -- would be an excellent foundation for it.
HTC's chief executive officer Peter Chou didn't unveil a Google phone either during the announcement, but he did hint at one by stating" 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..."