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T-Mobile Unveils the HTC G1: The World’s First “Android” Phone

HTC's G1 phone; courtesy of T-Mobile USA

HTC's G1, courtesy T-Mobile USA

After about a year’s worth of hype, an Android based phone is a reality.  Google has spearheaded Android as an “Open Handset Alliance” project. Essentially, it is an operating system and application bundle for use on mobile devices.  It’s based on a Linux 2.6 kernel, and the entire project is open source.  This possibly marks a major paradigm shift in the mobile industry, as up until now, most mobile devices are locked down with at least in part proprietary, closed software.  Google’s plan was to develop an open platform that the open source community as a whole could improve and contribute to.  Rather than allowing developers to add applications as an afterthought (*cough* Apple, you listening?), extending support immediately to developers in a free and open manner was goal #1 of the project.

T-Mobile is the first to bring an Android based phone to market, and presented it to the public at large at a press event in NYC this morning.  The first Android phone is being made by Tiawan-based HTC.  The phone features a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and touch screen support (though apparently not the high-tech “multitouch” found on the Apple iPhone.)  It’s loaded with the full array of Google apps such as GMail, Google Maps, and YouTube.  It also includes “Shop Savvy” to help find the best prices on items while on the go, and “Eco Reo,” a calculator of sorts that helps the environmentally conscious consumer track their carbon footprint.  Amazon also announced this morning along side the T-Mobile announcement, that their MP3 application will also be pre-loaded into the device, which is basically a mobile-phone optimized version of their on-line DRM-free MP3 store.  The phone of course doubles as a music player, and MP3s purchased through the Amazon store can be freely transferred to any other device.

The phone’s web browser is based on WebKit, which is the same technology found in Apple’s Safari, the Apple iPhone browser, and the newly announced Google Chrome browser.

The phone will set you back $179 with a 2-year contract, and has two tiered data plans at $25 and $35; a voice plan is bundled and priced separate and is required.  3G connectivity is only available in select markets at the moment, but T-Mobile is announcing that coverage should reach 80% of their customers by November.  The United Kingdom can expect to see the phone hit their streets around the same time in November, and availability will reach Europe wide into 2009.

Though we can probably expect the open source community to fill in some of the gaps where the phone lacks, some drawbacks named off at the press conference this morning include: the phone CAN NOT be used as a tethered modem, to provide connectivity to a laptop, regardless of your data plan.  It’s mail support is also limited and does not yet support Microsoft Exchange.  The phone is also going to be locked to T-Mobile, so despite hyping up the “open” nature of the software, they’re still going to dictate which provider you can use it with (which seems a little hypocritical to me!)

Much of this phone’s success, and Android phones in general, will depend on the community of users developing new applications for it.  In that sense it’s a bit of a gamble, but my money would have to go down on Android; I’m betting we’ll see some pretty creative and innovative ways to use a mobile phone and mobile web development in the coming months.  Whether or not this can take a bite out of Apple’s iPhone momentum?  We’ll have to wait and see.

  • Enyedi Szilard

    I don’t think the “community of users developing new applications for it” aspect is so ground breaking; I’m using Windows Mobile phones and there is lots of “creative and innovative” software for this platform. If Google, HTC and T-Mobile will control the applications to be installed on the phone, the device will be stable, but development won’t be 100% free. This is iPhone-esque. If they leave the development open, they’ll have what Windows Mobile has: a large developer and software base, but also incompatibility issues. In my opinion, both the iPhone and Android hype has to do with looks, not hardware/software features: the iPhone looks nicer than the HTC Diamond I’m about to get; OS X (probably also Android) look better than vanilla Windows Mobile 6.1. I doubt developers will have better access to Android’s functions than to OS X’s or Windows Mobile’s. Maybe they’ll improve Android Linux, though.

  • MaxPlanck

    Splendid piece. I’m thirsty.