After months of speculation and anticipation, T-Mobile and Google on Tuesday unveiled the G1, a new smartphone manufactured by HTC and the first commercially available handheld to run Google’s Android mobile operating system.
“[This launch] is a very important milestone event for … Google, T-Mobile and HTC. This is going to be a very, very important device in the marketplace, and it’s going to have a lot of interest from consumers who have a strong affinity for the Google brand,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice president mobile strategy, Jupitermedia/mobiledevicestoday.com.
“You have a very important player in the guise of Google entering into the operating system landscape and mobile device landscape. It comes at a time when the mobile landscape is fragmented. Google sees the phone as the next PC market. The phone is where the PC was 15 years ago, except that there is no one device ruling the world like Windows was on the PC,” Gartenberg told LinuxInsider.
In the U.S., T-Mobile subscribers can immediately order the G1. The handset will be available in black, white and brown at select T-Mobile retail stores and online on Oct. 22, priced at US$179 with a two-year voice and data agreement. The G1 will also be available in the United Kingdom beginning in November and in select European markets during the first quarter of 2009.
As has become de rigueur with smartphones of late, the G1 features a wide touchscreen. Also included are a 3-megapixel camera and a slideout QWERTY keyboard. The G1, which runs on T-Mobile’s 3G and EDGE networks as well as WiFi, also includes a trackball and a music player.
However, while the handset itself includes much of the functions consumers have come to expect from a smartphone, the star feature of the device is the Android open source platform developed by Google.
With Android as the backbone of the G1, T-Mobile and Google have loaded the device with several new applications, such as Google Maps with Street View. The map service enables users to instantly view maps and satellite imagery as well as locate local businesses and access driving directions.
Using the Street View feature, users can tour locations as though they were standing on a street corner in that city. The feature also syncs with the built-in compass inside the G1, allowing users to view locales and navigate 360 degrees by simply moving the phone.
Other applications on the G1 include a rich HTML e-mail client capable of syncing Gmail, calendar and contacts as well as most other POP3 or IMAP e-mail services. The devices also supports instant messaging in the form of Google Talk, as well as AOL , Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. Also included is built-in support for YouTube.
As Apple’s iPhone has iTunes, the G1 comes preloaded with a new application from Amazon.com that accesses the e-tail giant’s media store.
Android is “somewhere between” Windows Mobile and the iPhone OS, according to Ken Dulaney, a Gartner Research analyst.
“The most obvious attribute is that it doesn’t use the elegant gestures of the iPhone,” he told LinuxInsider.
That said, however, users can still zoom in on Web page content, crop a photo, or rearrange the G1’s homepage, as they can on the iPhone.
While the G1 has more mapping applications than other smartphones, there is not much else that differentiates the device from others, said Dulaney, who expects the G1 to be targeted at younger text message- and e-mail-oriented consumers.
“Some of it will be less capable [than other handsets] because it’s first-generation. Some subscribers will come from Sprint or from Verizon. But I don’t think that Apple users are going to go from the iPhone to this device,” he stated.
The G1, however, is missing many of the functionalities that enterprise users demand, said Gartenberg. Although the device can read documents created in Word, Excel or PowerPoint, the handset does not support Microsoft Exchange.
“It’s really not a business-oriented device. It’s lacking a lot of things business users might want, some of the same things missing on the first generation of the iPhone. It’s going to be important to see how quickly they will fill in those gaps,” he pointed out.
During the conference at which the G1 was introduced, Cole Brodman, chief technology officer for T-Mobile, claimed that Android’s status as an open source platform made the phone “future proof.” Both Google and T-Mobile expect the developer community to begin building apps for the device, as has been the case with the iPhone.
However, In-Stat analyst Bill Hughes calls the future proof claim a “stretch.”
“It is theoretically possible to upgrade all smartphones. It has been rarely an important feature because frankly, most people get a new phone rather than enhance an old one. The G1 is more “future proof” that the feature phones that make up the majority of the market. This has nothing to do with being open source,” Hughes told LinuxInsider.