Wednesday, September 24, 2008

First Google cellphone coming from T-Mobile

Yesterday T-Mobile USA unveiled the first cellphone that runs Google's Android software. The phone includes an advanced Web browser and a number of Google services intended to spur wider use of the Internet on phones.

The G1 will be available in stores Oct. 22, priced at $179 with a two-year contract. Completing its first version of its mobile operating system is a milestone for Google, which has experimented with ways to spread its services to mobile for years. At times, its efforts -- such as bidding to purchase its own wireless spectrum -- have appeared as a crusade to change the wireless industry but the phone demonstrates how the company is currently content to work with traditional partners.

Google executives said the device is the first of many to be built on Android, a set of programs that are designed to be modified by other developers and serve as a foundation for other software. The company announced the project last fall, investing in the technology in order to create a more direct way to deliver mobile versions of its Web services and drive usage of the Internet by cellphone users.

Now Google must persuade other carriers and handset makers to sign-up to build on its software as well. Several companies, including Sprint, Motorola and Samsung have expressed interest in bringing Android devices to market. Google co-founder Sergey Brin didn't rule out that Google would play a more active role in designing handsets. "If we had good ideas to contribute, then we would," he said.

The G1 is a sign of how Google, along with others like Apple, are forcing wireless carriers to rethink their traditional business models. Normally, carriers aggressively promote their own branded services for Web browsing and purchasing ringtones. But T-Mobile USA agreed to play down its presence on the G1, betting that it can generate much more consumer Internet usage by exploiting Google's popular brand and partnering with other companies, like, which powers a full-track music download service on the phone.
The phone, offered in black, white and brown, has both a touch screen and a slide keyboard. It features a menu of traditional phone applications, like a phone book, email and calendar.
Executives also highlighted the Android Market, which they characterized as an open marketplace to let developers create and sell a variety of programs and games.

Andy Rubin, Google's senior director of mobile platforms, says Android has allowed Google to improve upon existing versions of its mobile services. For instance, Google created a new view for its mapping service that leverages the compass in the phone to rotate the image based on the phone's direction.

The G1 is expected to work best on T-Mobile's 3G wireless network, which has faster transmission speeds than second-generation services. But so far that service is only available in 13 U.S. cities, meaning many consumers may find the Web service slow.

The carrier, which is offering data plans of $25 to $35 a month, is planning to reach 27 markets with 3G service by the end of the year. The phone also supports Wi-Fi access, which will allow faster Web access and application downloads when users are in hotspots like airports. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

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