Google Android Makes Barcelona Appearance With TI

Semiconductor vendors Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and ARM Holdings are showcasing the first prototype handsets powered by Google's Android platform at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, according to company statements.

Dallas, Tex.-based TI is demonstrating a device based on its OMAP850 processor that includes WLAN and Bluetooth solutions, as well as an OMAP3430 processor-based Zoom Mobile Development Kit from Logic PD, according to the company. The device demonstrates "one button access" to applications such as Web browsing, e-mail, messaging and video and both demonstrations will highlight the OMAP platform's multi-core architecture to deliver multimedia and user interfaces on the Android platform, according to the company.

A Texas Instruments spokesperson said Monday that the company's booth at the show had garnered much attention due to the device. Pricing for the development kit will be under $1,000, according to TI. Pricing for a handset has not been determined, the company said.

Fellow semiconductor vendors ARM and Qualcomm also brought prototype Android handsets to the Mobile World Congress. Cambridge, U.K.-based ARM wasn't long on details about its prototype Monday, but cautioned against characterizing the device as a production-ready "Google phone."

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"ARM has not indicated the announcement or existence of a Google phone. This is a prototype that does not have the final features or look and feel of a production device," the company said in a statement.

Qualcomm described its prototype as "test equipment running the Android platform," a spokesperson for the San Diego, Calif.-based company said Monday.

About 30 manufacturers have said they will support Google's open-source operating system, which was announced in November 2007. The first handsets are expected to be available to the public later this year.

Phones based on Google's platform had been drawing interest long before the company announced its Android platform and its help creating the Open Handset Alliance. Frustration with limitations put on application developers by carriers and some prominent handset OEMs has helped Google generate considerable buzz around Android, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup which the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant acquired in July 2005.

At a Nov. 27 panel discussion on mobile operating systems hosted by the Wireless Communications Alliance (WCA) in Palo Alto (video here), Google's point man for Android, Rich Miner, evangelized a free-wheeling future in which developers are able to bypass carriers like Verizon and AT&T to quickly and easily drop new applications on top of open-source handset OSes like Android.

Miner, a founder of Android who is now group manager of Google's Mobile Platforms division, was sharply critical of what he called "artificial barriers" to software innovation on handsets put in place by carriers only interested in "protecting their revenue." Asked if it would be a good idea for carriers to "become a dumb pipe" despite legitimate security concerns around unrestricted access to mobile OS kernels, Miner replied: "They need to learn how to become a value-added pipe, and right now they can't even do that."

But some in the open-source community haven't been quite as enthusiastic about Android as Miner and Google, complaining that the license agreement for the initial Android software development kit (SDK) released last November restricts extraction of the platform's source code. Meanwhile, panelists at the WCA event from Research in Motion, Nokia, Symbian and Microsoft more or less downplayed Android's relevance in the handset market.

Google also has announced $10 million in awards to developers who build applications around the Android platform. The company last November released its Android SDK and planned to drive the money in two Android developer challenges. The first kicked off Jan. 2 and runs through March 3, 2008. The second will launch after the first handsets are available in the second half of 2008. In the first challenge, 50 entries will receive $25,000 for further development. Twenty of those entries are then eligible for one of 10 $275,000 awards and 10 $100,000 awards.

Google could not be reached for comment at press time.

Additional reporting by Damon Poeter and Nathan Eddy