Monday's announcement of the Android open mobile platform by Google and dozens of other companies could provoke the kinds of industry battles seen with other Linux-based initiatives, where incumbent, established players fight newcomers.
If that is going to play out, though, it wasn't obvious Monday. Some of the more established mobile players, including Microsoft , Apple., Verizon Wireless and AT&T, offered low-key reactions to Google's plans. None of the four companies is a member of the new Open Handset Alliance (OHA), the group of 34 wireless carriers, handset makers and others that have created Android.
An Android software development kit will be released next week under the Apache open-source licence. Android is designed to provide an open operating system and interface, and open middleware and applications, with Android phones shipping in the last half of 2008.
Scott Rockfeld, a mobile communications group product manager at Microsoft, said Windows Mobile already offers the features planned for Android. Microsoft was not invited to join the OHA, he added.
"We already have an alliance around Windows Mobile, with 160 wireless operators in 55 countries and with 48 device makers," Rockfeld said. About 18,000 applications are already built on Windows Mobile, for use in large businesses and by consumers.
"Nothing new and revolutionary was announced" with Android, Rockfeld said. "It was ho-hum compared to what we've done for the last five years with Windows Mobile."
IPhone maker Apple is not planning to comment on Android, a spokeswoman for the company said. "Google is an important partner, and this announcement doesn't change that," the spokeswoman said. She noted that the iPhone is also going to be opened to the developer community in February and will go on sale in Europe on Friday; more than 1.4 million units have already been sold in the U.S.
At Verizon Wireless, the tone was also friendly, even though Verizon has objected to open access and open devices before the U.S. Federal Communications Commission regarding the upcoming 700-MHz spectrum auction. "Verizon Wireless shares the goal of more open mobile application development," said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman. "We haven't ruled out joining this group."
He said Verizon welcomes Google and other handset makers that share Verizon's goal of "providing more open development of applications on mobile handsets."
Another U.S. carrier not in the OHA is AT&T Spokesman Mark Siegel said in an interview that the concepts and goals that Google announced Monday are mostly available already to 67 million wireless AT&T subscribers. "We offer a very open environment to customers who can access e-mail and tunes, including Google content and graphics," he said. AT&T is the exclusive carrier for iPhone in the U.S., he noted.
Siegel said he would not speculate about joining the OHA, but added, "Look at what users are able to do now with mobile text and sending multimedia messages, cellular video, radiolike services, ring tones and graphics. It's hard to see what one is not able to do."
For those companies that joined OHA, there are many things users cannot do with their phones today, including easily browsing the Internet, several representatives said Monday during the Android announcement. Nuance Communications Inc. said in a statement that it wants to help developers build mobile applications with basic voice command functions in English.
"We believe our efforts can unleash the true potential of the mobile phone," said Steve Chambers, president of Nuance's mobile and consumer services division.
In an interview, Chambers said that Android could help in loading speech commands on a large array of mobile devices. "One basic problem we have today to solve is that there is an incredible fragmentation of platforms," he said.