Google’s eye-catching demonstration of an early Android-enabled mobile phone Wednesday appeared to mimic Apple’s iPhone. But Google officials downplayed the notion that they will face off against iPhone in the handset market.
The company at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco showed an Android device, featuring touch screen functionality, advanced graphical capabilities and Internet access, similar to iPhone. With Android, the company seeks to extend the browser to handheld devices, a capability currently limited to systems such as iPhone, said Vic Gundotra, Google engineering vice president.
“We believe over time, the browser on mobile devices will be the entry point for many, many applications,” Gundotra said.
Android, though, does not represent Google’s countermove against the iPhone, Gundotra argued.
“I wouldn’t say that at all. I think the iPhone is just a world-class device with a great Web browser that delivers in many respects on one of Google’s key goals: To bring the Web to the mobile device,” Gundotra said. “We wish every mobile phone was as good as the iPhone.”
The first Android systems are due in the second half of this year, with an Android SDK available now that leverages Java development tools. Android also relies on Apple’s open-source WebKit browser engine.
The audience was shown a view of a street from an Android system as well as a demonstration of the Pac-Man video game. Users also can add icons to the screen, such as a New York Times icon to access news.
Additionally, Android features capabilities like an unlock pattern for security and a status bar enabling access to missed calls, for example. Shortcuts can be enabled to applications such as Gmail and music and contact lists. Applications written for WebKit-enabled phones can work out of the box.
Also highlighted were zooming capabilities, a compass mode, site navigation, and access to Google Maps.
The Android demonstration made an impact on a developer in the audience who previously was not interested in the project.
“The Android [demonstration] did look really interesting to me, and that was actually something that I wasn’t interested but after this, yes, I definitely am interested in it,” said developer Chad Crandall, who also is a student at Arizona State University. “It appears to be making a single platform for all the mobile Web applications, and that’s something we all need.”
Android technically is under the jurisdiction of the Google-led Open Handset Alliance. Handset makers who have pledged to build devices for Android include HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and LG. Carriers planning to offer services for Android include Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and AT&T.
Asked if users would need to buy new devices in order to use Android, Android team member Andy Rubin said since the software is open source, someone might be able to make it work on existing systems.
Google expects to generate revenues via Android by extending the reach of the Internet to handheld phones. Google sells Internet-based ads, applications, appliances and license fees.
“Google does reasonably well on the open Internet. We’d like that model to come to mobile phones,” said Gundotra, a former Microsoft executive.
During the keynote, Gundotra emphasized Google’s commitment to Web technologies. “At a very high level, Google cares about moving the Web forward. The Web has become the dominant platform of our era,” he said.
Company officials also said Google Gears software, which enables interaction between Web applications and the desktop, has been renamed as simply Gears. This is intended to spread the message that the technology is not just for the Google platform.
The company demonstrated a Gears application by MySpace, which used Gears to add search capabilities for its e-mail inbox.
“We don’t want MySpace to tell those users to go use a Google product,” said Sundar Pinchai, a member of the Gears development team.
Google officials detailed product plans including pricing for the Google App Engine hosted service as well as noting the 1.5 release of Google Web Toolkit, featuring adherence to Java 5 conventions. They also cited the 0.8 release of Google’s OpenSocial API , featuring REST capabilities.
Google officials also noted the Apache Shindig project, an open-source implementation of the OpenSocial and Google Gadgets specifications.