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Tech firms demo slew of Android prototypes

Posted: 14 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google's Android? Nokia? GPS?

The Mobile World Congress showcased several versions of Google's Android platform-based cellphones from technology suppliers, including ARM Ltd, Texas Instruments Inc. and Qualcomm Inc.

ARM demonstrated an Android-based phone running on a two-generation-old ARM 9 core, which impressed a few after seeing new phones such as Nokia's 6220 (a full-featured device combining a 5Mpixel camera with A-GPS functionality). Nokia also showed its N96, which is optimized for video and TV, and the N78, which combines music, navigation and photography.

However, it would be misleading to describe the Android prototypes as "ho hum."

Work in progress
At this point, Android-based phones are either working prototypes or are still on the drawing board. They are still in a "pre-integration phase," acknowledged Steve Mollenkoph, senior VP of product management for Qualcomm CDMA Technologies.

The prototype handsets were able to demonstrate some multimedia applications, including full-blown Web browsing, running on a Linux kernel.

The point of the Android platform is to "offer an application framework" so that OEMs can develop a range of Android platform-based phones "without having to start from scratch" on software development, explained Bob Morris, ARM's director of platform solutions and mobile computing.

Dominant handset vendors like Nokia, trendsetters like iPhone maker Apple Inc. or OS vendors Microsoft Corp. or Symbian Ltd can build their own application and service "ecosystem" through their own developers' community. By contrast, Google's Android platform promises a level playing field for handset OEMs by offering alternatives to those promoted by dominant vendors like Nokia.

The philosophy of the Open Handset Alliance is to "offer multiple handset vendors access to the Android platform through the support of open source activities," added Avner Goren, director of strategic marketing for TI's wireless terminals business unit.

While the Open Mobile Alliance is intended to define common characteristics among mobile phones so that operators can offer interoperable services, the alliance is also designed to go much deeper into "implementation definitions," said Goren. "The Android platform consists of a full software stack, starting from a Linux kernel and all the way up to applications."

TI is demonstrating an early Android mobile platform in two forms: a prototype handset based on its OMAP850 processor that also includes its WLAN and Bluetooth wireless technology; and an OMAP3430 processor-based Zoom Mobile Development Kit from Minneapolis-based Logic Product Development.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm demonstrated a development board for Android that uses its 7200 chipset consisting of a UMTS modem and 500MHz ARM processor based on an ARM 11 core.

Similar vision
While Nokia executives said Google and Nokia share "a similar vision" for developing "operator-independent, cross-platform software stacks," a senior Nokia executive said Google's Android is "still a PowerPoint presentation."

Niklas Savander, Nokia's executive VP of services and software, added that an extensive hardware abstraction layer is still needed before commercial products emerge based on the Android platform.

ARM's Morris partially agreed. "Lots of porting is still needed, ranging from lower level stuff such as interops and DMA [direct memory access] to higher level communications," he said.

When will the first handsets based on the Android platform emerge? James Bruce, North American mobile manager at ARM, said by 2H. Handset vendors such as Taiwan's HTC Corp. and Motorola Inc. are expected to be among the initial vendors.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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