Google has officially unveiled Android, a mobile software platform that is generally referred to as the Google Phone.
An early version of a software development kit is slated for release by next week. The first phones powered by the software are expected to hit the market in the second half of next year.
Android bundles an operating system, middleware, user interface and applications. The platform will be made available under an open source licence. Phones currently rely on proprietary software such as the Symbian operating system and Windows Mobile. Vendors also are increasingly experimenting with Linux.
The multitude of platforms however has caused the market to fragment. Users ordering games or ring tones for instance need to know the model of their phones. Android aims to create a common platform for the mobile phone that is similar to the PC, allowing developers to craft applications without interference from device makers or operators.
Those operators and device makers however will still be able to customize the platform to add features and add their corporate brand.
The platform was developed through the Open Handset Alliance, a new industry body that includes technology and mobile providers as well as operators, such as T-Mobile, Motorola and Texas Instruments. Nokia, the majority shareholder of Symbian, is not part of the alliance, vnunet.com reports.
"This partnership will help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world. A fresh approach to fostering innovation in the mobile industry will help shape a new computing environment that will change the way people access and share information in the future," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said.
"We don't see this as a threat," said a spokesman for Nokia Oyj, the most conspicuous absentee from Google's list of more than 30 collaborators on its open-source software project designed to make the Internet run better on cell phones.
A spokeswoman for UIQ, a smartphone software firm owned by cell phone makers Sony Ericsson and Motorola Inc., said: "Generally, it's positive for the industry."
Google earlier revealed it would work with some of the world's largest telecoms players, including operator T-Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm Inc and Motorola, to develop an open software platform named "Android" for mobile devices.
Analysts said the platform could give Google a headstart in the burgeoning mobile advertising market, which has been hampered by lack of agreement on standards and handset design. Google already dominates the PC-based Internet search market.
An executive of Britain's Symbian, on whose operating system almost three-quarters of the world's smartphones are based, said Google was not to be underestimated but faced a hard task.
"We have been going nine years and have probably seen a dozen new platforms come in and tell us we are under attack," John Forsyth, Symbian's strategy chief, told Reuters.
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