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Mobile World Congress--Hands On With Android

Here I was, wandering through the halls at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona, waiting for my moment in the sun. Chip licensing company ARM Ltd, you see, was about to show me a working early prototype of ??ndroid,?the much-discussed open handset pitched by Google as the next revolution in mobile computing (or something like that). Texas Instruments in another hall had crowds popping in to see its chip platform running on Android, but I smugly walked by confident in my ability to hold an actual working Android phone.

After finding the ARM booth, I hungrily grabbed the all-white device that looked suspiciously like the HTC S620 smartphone. To my surprise, no trumpets blared. No visions came to me. Not one lousy bit of drool escaped my lips.

The software, demonstrated on a midrange ARM processor, was fast and responsive. It showed tight integration with Google applications such as email and web search. But I couldn’t help but feel: “So what?”

My experience highlights the issues Google and its retinue in the Open Handset Alliance will have to face if Android is to succeed. The software might be nice. It might even be easy to use, but will there a killer application like Apple’s iTunes software and store that makes the device worthwhile? And the hardware implementation on this particular device certainly didn’t impress me enough to think I must immediately have it.

Then too, you’ve got to wonder if there is a killer app, whether it will ever make it into every single Android device in the utopian fashion some are proposing. Indeed, I wonder whether handset makers have a hidden motive for supporting an open device that could be a nightmare to produce and manage: smoking out the truly innovative developers and snapping them up with lucrative employment contracts.

The cellular industry is a tough, hard-scrabble business. It seems clear to me now that the Google phone will do little to make it any easier.

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