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2/5/2008
12:30 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Here's What The Google Phone Could Look Like

Speculation about how the GPhone is shaping up has taken a temporary back seat to the chatter about Google's efforts to throw a monkey wrench into Microsoft's bid for Yahoo. But what developers are doing with the Android SDK, released last fall to inspire the flowering of a thousand independent Google Phones, is actually much more interesting. Now there's some stuff to look at, too.



Speculation about how the GPhone is shaping up has taken a temporary back seat to the chatter about Google's efforts to throw a monkey wrench into Microsoft's bid for Yahoo. But what developers are doing with the Android SDK, released last fall to inspire the flowering of a thousand independent Google Phones, is actually much more interesting. Now there's some stuff to look at, too.As Over-The-Air blogger Eric Zeman reported in January, Taiwanese OEM Wistron is apparently readying an Android-powered smartphone, which could appear as early as March.

Another Taiwan-based handset vendor, HTC, which already has carved out a niche as the coolest creator of handsets this side of the iPhone -- HTC makes the Tilt and the Touch -- also is committed to shipping a GPhone this year.

Still, if you really want to get some insight into what the GPhone is going to look like, the best way to go is to delve into the work by the independent developers who are playing around with the Android SDK. That's because there are several distinct threads emerging. First, as I mentioned above, there's going to be no such thing as a monolithic GPhone. There will be many different GPhones. Unlike the iPhone, which is a specific device (or family), the Google Phone is a platform.

Also keep in mind that the first wave of GPhones coming out of corporate makers like HTC and Wistron are likely to be first cuts, which will be positioned in the market more like iPhone competitors than as full flowerings of the platform Google ultimately envisions. Bear with me here.

What I mean by this is: The iPhone is a closely controlled -- and closed -- platform, with Apple parsimoniously approving every bit which passes into the device. The GPhone, in contrast, is less about the handset itself than about the applications it's going to host. That's going to be the beauty of the GPhone -- that it's going to be a killer, open platform, with numerous hardware variations (via different models from handset makers) and thousands of software apps (from independent developers).

OK, so what will the thing look like? Again, there will be many different looks. However, an interesting, early glimpse of one possible look-and-feel comes from independent developer Tea Vui Huang. He has posted a screen shot of a Google Android emulator skin for a Japanese NTT DoCoMo phone. That is, this is what a GPhone screen would look like, but since he doesn't have "GPhone" hardware per se, he's emulating what it'd look like. (Huang has also posted free, downloadable code for developers looking to run Android API demos on Nokia or Sony Ericsson phones.)



Developer Tea Vui Huang's GPhone screen running as an NTT DoCoMo emulation. (Click picture to enlarge.)

Serious Apps Coming

Keep in mind that Google is extremely serious about spurring the development of Android-based GPhone applications. Google is currently running a contest called the "Android Developer Challenge," under which it's soliciting mobile applications. They're casting a wide net here, asking for the kind of apps you don't normally think of when you're thinking an old-fashioned smartphone.

I know, smartphones are still new enough that an old-fashioned one is almost an oxymoron. But that's the point: Google is looking to push into new territory, and get there while Steve Jobs is still messing around, deciding which iPhone apps he deems cool enough for his treasured, personal platform.

Anyway, so the Android Challenge is seeking GPhone apps in social networking, location-based services, gaming, functionality mash-ups (say that one three times fast), and more. The deadline is April 15, and there are $10 million in prizes. OK, they call them "awards," but this is the real deal -- $25,000 to the 50 "most promising" apps, as well as 10 $100,000 and 10 $275,000 prizes.

Really, with incentives like this, the GPhone is gonna be unstoppable.

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