The gPhone isn’t a Google phone. Instead, it is the formation of an alliance to develop an open platform for mobile devices.
The new consortium is called the Open Handset Alliance. The Alliance is formed around the Android platform that Google has contributed to the Alliance. Andy Rubin, Google’s Director of Mobile Platforms, describes Android as:
The first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications — all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation.
If this is true–and the devil is in the definition of “open” as it always is–this could be a substantial development for mobile devices.
UPDATE: According the Open Handset Alliance FAQs, the platform will be released under Apache v2 Open Source License. The code will have a publicly accessible repository. It sounds very open thus far.
Last summer at Web Visions, I had an extended conversation with Kinan Sweidan of Ximda who had presented on determining location using mobile devices. During the conversation, Kinan talked about how difficult it was to develop on mobile devices.
The primary problem seemed to be carriers who don’t see their phones as a platform for other development. Handset manufacturers are beholden to the carriers because their hardware and software are useless if the companies like Verizon and AT&T decide not to allow the phone on their network.
The economics also favor the carriers because the cost of developing a phone is higher than most consumers will pay which is why the cost of the hardware is often underwritten by signing contracts that lock in services. Apple is rumored to receive another $432 from AT&T for every iPhone that is sells.
With this as context, it is possible to see why the Open Handset Alliance could be a game changer:
- The price of developing new hardware will presumably decrease because of an open and shared development of the OS. A decrease in handset costs will loosen the hold carriers have on phone manufacturers by decreasing the need for underwriting of phone costs. This does not decrease their stranglehold on their networks. Legislation would be required for change that dynamic.
- The combination of Android and Apple’s recent decision to release an SDK may mark a turning point in the understanding that the value of mobile devices will increase as they open up to outside developers.
If the second point has actually come to pass–if in the last few months the mobile industry has woken up to the realization that their future is dependent on becoming a platform for a wide variety of developers–then things will get very interesting very quickly.
The possibilities for mobile devices are astounding. 2008 is shaping up to be a very big year for mobile.