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Google: Android's Not Evil

Sticking to its "Don't Be Evil" mantra, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) officials are trying not to characterize Android, the company's new software initiative for mobile devices, as an attempt to dominate the cellphone industry.

They do believe that Android will be the best vehicle for delivering a wired-Internet experience to handsets, though. Speaking on conference call for media after this morning's announcement of Android and the Open Handset Alliance , Google officials described their effort as a way to jump-start a new wave of mobile applications. (See Google Makes Mobile Move.)

"It starts a whole wave of innovation and a whole set of industry initiatives that we can't even foresee," said Andy Rubin Google's director of mobile platforms and a founder of Android, the software startup Google acquired in 2005.

"The fundamental problem with most of the phones people have today is they do not have full-power browsers," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said. "There are many examples of applications that will be really amazing on a mobile device, but they're extremely difficult to build because the underlying computer architecture and software development platform aren't powerful enough." [Ed. note: He's a Novell vet. He knows about crappy software.]

Handset makers High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) said they weren't going to be stopping the use of other operating systems just because Android came along, and executives from Google and other companies speaking on the conference call shared that perception.

"There really is the potential for many different operating systems and operating environments to be supported on handsets," said Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) CEO Paul Jacobs.

Schmidt pledged to make Android an über-open-source project, the kind where all parties are welcome to use and modify the software. The idea smacks of the talks Schmidt gave while at Sun Microsystems Inc. , when the Java platform first emerged.

Schmidt seemed to imply Android will be more open-source than any other open-source project. Google gave no specifics today but noted its terms are based on a familiar Apache open-source license.

The open-source nature of the phones means carriers will be free to leave out features or to "lock down" their devices, Rubin admitted. That's a sticky point, since Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone users recently learned that modified phones could stop working after a software upgrade. (See Apple: Don't Unlock the iPhone and France Unlocks the iPhone.)

Asked if the alliance is a response to the visibility of the iPhone, Google executives said only that Apple is as welcome as any company to join in. The same goes for BlackBerry , which is also not listed among the alliance's members.

Analyst Mark Kirstein, president of MultiMedia Intelligence , has theorized that Google's entry into the cellphone world could lead to ad-subsidized handsets. Advertising certainly is in Google's plans, but for now, Google is saying it just wants to get things rolling by getting Android into application developers' hands.

"You won't see a completely ad driven cellphone based on this platform for some time," Rubin said.

When ad revenues do start appearing, Google expects to be sharing revenues with other vendors, the model it's used so far in the wireless world. "We're likely to want to enter such agreements with handset partners because sharing in the revenue, and sharing in the advertising, produces a better ecosystem," Schmidt said.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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