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First glimpse of the Google Phone

Ian Grant

Google gave some staff a new unlocked mobile phone handset at the weekend that some believe is the much-anticipated "Google Phone".

Pictures suggest the Nexus One is made by HTC, which brought out the first handset to run Android, the open, Google-sponsored mobile phone operating system. (Nexus was the name of the killer android range in Blade Runner.)

From comments on various blogs, the phone appears to run Android 2.1, an operating system upgrade expected to be launched in January. The user interface allows animated responses to touch, making for effects such as ripples on a pond.

Blogger Scott Deto suggested the "killer" scenario as being to use Google Voice for all calls and SMS, to connect via Wi-Fi where available, and to use a T-Mobile pre-paid SIM on HSPA 7.2/HSPA+21 when necessary. "The mobile carrier becomes the back-up connectivity commodity," he said.

Android, a Unix-based operating system, has been less successful in capturing market share in the US than Apple's iPhone, and is almost unknown outside the US, where Nokia's Symbian has about two-thirds of the market.

Android also faces competition from Samsung, the world's number two handset maker, which launched its own Linux-based operating system, Bada, in November.

The mobile market is overcrowded with operating systems. This makes it harder for applications developers to target more than one or two hardware/software platforms. Handset makers are going all-out to encourage them to produce for their handsets and to sell through online stores, such as Apple's App Store or Nokia's Ovi Store.

But this strategy may prove counter-productive. App Store is believed to have more than 100,000 applications. That makes it difficult for users to find them. Some say fewer than 2% of those apps have been downloaded. That makes it hard for users to judge the quality of the apps before they download them, because there is so little user comment or review information.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (Rim) recently attracted more than 1,000 programmers to a developers' conference. Rim sources said the firm would open an app store to meet demand from the growing number of consumers, rather than corporate users, who prefer BlackBerries.

Proprietary operating systems are likely to continue to serve users with specific needs. But the number of Unix/Linux-based operating systems is likely to attract most developers because of the relative ease with which they can adapt their software to slightly different environments.


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