Open Handset Alliance + OpenSocial = checkmate by Google?

When I think about the Google Phone, or the gPhone, it feels a bit like what the iPhone was. Both the gPhone and the iPhone were, in my mind (and in the mind of many others, I’m sure), the phone to end all phones, the Jesus phone, the one thing that I wanted which no other phone could do. As in everything else in life, Apple and Google manage to delight and disappoint at the same time. So, after weeks (years, really) of speculation, Google finally announced their mobile play. What does in mean for us, and what does it mean for Palm?

So what is the Open Handset Alliance? The foundation begins with Android. Android was a start-up that Google bought. Along with Android came its founder, Andy Rubin, who was one of the original developers of the Danger / T-Mobile Sidekick.

Here’s the thing about Open Handset Alliance : there is no gPhone. Instead, it’s a platform that includes an operating system, user-interface and applications. It’s very ambitious, and it already has the support of some big names : T-Mobile (which had the Sidekick, and needs a competitor to the iPhone), HTC (which produces phones under their own brand and also acts as ODM-original device manufacturer for others), Qualcomm (struggling against Lucent for wireless/3G patents), Motorola (once mighty, now struggling against Nokia and Sony Ericsson).

Each of the partners have their own concerns, but the represent the broad spectrum of the mobile industry, from chipset maker to hardware manufacturer to mobile operator. This is a highly competitive industry, and every one is looking for themselves. Think about a modern smartphone : you have branding from 3-4 different companies : the phone manufacturer, the operating system vendor, the telco. Google’s Open Handset Alliance affects all of them.

What’s in it for the partners?
Aside from the benefit of partnering with a company that seemingly can do no wrong, the Open Handset Alliance is all about winning the hearts and minds of customers. Android is fully customizable in many ways : user interface, applications and services. Partners will be able to spend less time on the innards of the mobile phone and more on the customer facing aspects. An open platform also means open development : imagine millions of developers using one API for a billion phones.

Yes, an open, portable platform was also the promise of Java, but Sun never had the sheer weight of Google’s internal developer base and the depth of its wallet.

So, let’s recap the benefits:
- a solid OS based on Linux
- customizable front end, so you don’t lose your branding and customer interface
- new 3rd party application development

What’s in it for Google?
You don’t think that Google is doing this all from the goodness of its heart, right? Google is all about advertising. They have pretty much tapped out all 1 billion Internet users, and are eyeing the 3 billion mobile phone users next.

Google has been practically everywhere in the mobile world, testing the waters and spreading its brand. You can find Gmail and Google Maps on more or less any platform. It’s all about the services — a Google in your pocket is much more sticky than Google on your desktop. They already have all the tools to help you organize your life (Calendar, Contacts, etc) and communications (Gmail, Gtalk,etc). You can bet that Android includes all these built-in.

Soon you won’t be able to do anything without Google — and without Google’s advertisers.

Don’t forget Google’s other recent big announcement : OpenSocial. As Apple has demonstrated in the early days of the iPhone, web services do make credible applications for a phone. Not as good as native applications, of course, but you immediately reap the benefit of platform independence. With OpenSocial, developers can develop for many different “containers” (aka social networks). What’s to stop Android from being just another container? So, add to the developers of native applications, the Open Handset Alliance and Google will have web developers as well. Developers need to be paid for web services, you say? Well, there’s always Gpay.

Where next?
There are several companies notably absent in the Open Handset Alliance. Apple has a hit with the iPhone, and it has always gone on its own way. Microsoft, with its Windows Mobile platform and Windows Live services, is obviously a direct competitor. Open Handset Alliance is Google’s weapon against Microsoft, just like OpenSocial was its weapon against Facebook. Microsoft is big enough to compete, though I expect they will take their time to come up with a response. Yahoo! is left with no friends.

So how about the smaller players, like our dear Palm? Phones from members of the Open Handset Alliance are expected to ship second half of 2008, which probably means either Christmas 2008 or New Year 2009. Palm has stated that they will take 18 months to deliver new smartphones based on the new Palm OS Linux.

Let’s see : Linux OS? Applications? Services? It should be a no-brainer. Just add Android, Palm. Use your famed user interface skills to give us that familiar, easy to use smartphone. Forget about ambitions of your own OS. Deliver products faster. And maybe, you might just survive.

[ via many sources, including WSJ ]