After Apple finally announced its iPhone, all the folks who spent years and years passing around rumors about it needed to move onto something else. The first easy target was the gPhone
from Google, which has been rumored to be all different things over the past year. However, in the last couple of months, Google and its partners started leaking out a lot more info to tamp down expectations. They stated a few times that they were not building hardware, and then it came out that it was really just software that device manufacturers and mobile operators could offer that would be more "open," but would clearly promote various Google services. Not quite as exciting as some of the earlier rumors. Today Google finally put out the official announcement and there are no real surprises
. It appears to be exactly what the lowered expectations set it to be: an operating system built on Linux, that is open source and free for anyone to use. That is, it's not a phone at all, but simply a platform for others to use.
Sprint and T-Mobile have signed up as partners agreeing to offer it -- but it isn't expected on handsets until the latter half of 2008. Despite some rumors that Verizon Wireless would put aside its dislike of Google and participate
, so far it is staying on the sidelines. This isn't surprising both given Verizon Wireless' distaste for Google and its insistence on walled gardens over anything open. Also staying away is ATT, which is hardly surprising at all, given its investment in the iPhone. The big handset partners are HTC and Motorola -- again, no surprise. Motorola has dabbled around with Linux phones before and knows that it needs some kind of differentiator after getting clobbered by others in the market. HTC is a huge producer of Windows Mobile phones but has long had a pretty rocky relationship with Microsoft, so seeing a way to potentially get out from under that yoke must be appealing.
All in all, this is a good step forward for the mobile industry -- offering a more open alternative with some big name backers. However, it's not a revolutionary leap forward just yet. It's an enabling move that hopefully will drive more innovation and potentially push operators towards a more open, more innovative world, but it's going to be an incremental process. Even though it clearly wasn't for everyone, the iPhone redefined what mobile phones could be overnight. Almost every company in the space has adjusted at least some part of their strategy to deal with the iPhone. The Google phone platform won't have that same overnight impact, and depending on how well it works, it may never have that kind of impact. There will be a number of powerful forces working against Google in this space -- and unlike Apple, since Google isn't controlling the initial rollout and everything around it, it may make things tougher to fight through the initial noise. However, if it can get through any initial troubles towards adoption, then its openness and Google's commitment to push it forward could lead to mobile devices and services that are a lot more powerful. So, while it's not the flashy overnight sensation that the iPhone was, it has the potential to have a much larger long-term impact, though done so in a more typical understated manner.
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