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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 24, 2008 at 4:02 PM

Google mobile boss on G1 and Android, plus a little laptop in the works?

Very interesting stuff came out of conversations I had this week with executives involved with the G1 phone from T-Mobile USA, Google and HTC.

Especially when I asked if there are any plans to use the “Android” operating system that powers the G1 to develop small laptops.

It’s not that much of a stretch. Mini “netbook” computers that have been selling like crazy this year are based on Intel’s “Atom” hardware designed for handheld computing devices similar to the G1. Asus started the ball rolling with its EeePC, but lately even Hewlett-Packard and Dell are now making them.

Intel’s also a big player in the coalition of companies working with Google to develop Android software, which will be released as open-source around the time the G1 goes on sale Oct. 22. Android is also based on Linux, which powers many of the Atom laptops.

Google clearly wants Android to be used in all sorts of devices, not just high-end smartphones like the G1, but it’s not saying much about whether it will go head-to-head with Microsoft in low-end PC operating systems, as well as in phone software.

Rich Miner, Google’s mobile products group manager, gave an intriguing answer when I asked whether Android is running on Atom processors.

“Not at the moment,” he said.

Miner said, “We’ve had great interest in those platforms” but the team has been busy with huge interest from phone manufacturers and carriers around the world.

There was an equally pregnant pause when I asked HTC executives if they’re developing any sort of netbook/laptop based on Android. HTC is a phone maker, but it has experimented with larger devices and recently introduced a Windows Vista-based mobile computer with a 7-inch touchscreen and 3G wireless connectivity.

HTC Chief Executive Peter Chou said the company is “very committed on this mobile segment,” but it’s looking at the ultramobile PC category as well.

“When we do something we need to make sure we actually create our own value and differentiation,” he said. “Sometimes we have tried something but there’s a semgent, like EeePC, and those are very crowded so we are still figuring out our strategy — how we can be differentiated in that area.”

Could HTC use Android for such a device?

“Potentially,” said Jason Mackenzie, vice president of HTC America in Bellevue.

An Intel spokeswoman couldn’t give specifics. “We expect to see Atom in a variety of devices but at this time I can’t speculate on which particular customers, if they’re not public,” Connie Brown said.

First Google and its partners are going to get the G1 and other Android-based phones out the door.

Miner didn’t have any projections of unit sales to share, but said Google has broad goals for the product. (Android is named for a mobile platform company that Miner co-founded before it was acquired by Google).

“We haven’t been very focused on projections and what have you,” he said. “It’s certainly important for Google … but it’s a very long-term strategic play for us and the key thing for Google is our mission is to organize the world’s informaiton and make it universally available and useful.

“Ultimately we just have to help the mobile industry to be able to achieve the mobile Internet and a more open experience so people can better experience Google and other experiences from those mobile devices.”

Miner declined to say much about other Android phones in the works, but said he’s seen different shapes, colors, form factors and display presentations.

“I’ve seen handsets from all of the OEM partners we launched with and others and we’ve had interest from just about every carrier around the globe that you can imagine,” he said. “So I feel pretty good about the prospects of Android to find its way into lots of different phones and carriers around the globe.”

The bigger challenge, perhaps, may be getting the phone onto the roadmaps of software developers who now have an array of exciting but incompatible smartphone platforms for their applications, not to mention the proliferation of browsers that work on these computerlike devices.

Miner said Android will be released as open-source software around the time the G1 launches. That happens to be the week before Microsoft gives software developers their first sample of Windows 7 at an Oct. 27 developer conference.

What about all the comparisons between the iPhone and the G1 that people are making? Miner said he was concerned that such comparisons and the focus on the new device would overshadow the bigger Android platform effort.

“In an ideal world, frankly, we would have simultaneously launched two or three devices and people would have said, ‘Oh, I get it, it’s not about iPhone vs. the quote “Google” device,’ ” he said.

“People are clearly going to hold them up — they’re holding a 2.0 iPhone product up against a 1.0 Android product. I think that’s fine,” he said.

Miner said the goal isn’t beating a particular competitor, but “having a platform that can really help raise the bar for a large percentage” of the billions of mobile phones.

“The key thing is this is the first phone. The whole vision here is that at some point in the future there are phones from OEMs and ODMs on a fair amount of networks. That’s all part of the vision here — there’s a billion mobile phone sold every year and a lot of those have platforms that really don’t support a high fidelity user experience and great data and online experience.”



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