G1 Unveiled

A healthy contingent from CBS and (our corporate colleague) CNET attended today's T-Mobile press conference where the G1 was unveiled for the first time. Corporate executives from handset maker HTC, Google, and T-Mobile were onhand, as well as a "surprise" visit from Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. So what's the deal? Read on!

Andy Rubin, Google's senior director of mobile platforms, played a prominent creation role in the design of both the G1 software and the early Sidekick series of phones (you remember those). So it's no wonder there's a decidedly Sidekick feel to the G1 with its swing-out keypad. And therein lies perhaps the most obvious distinction between the G1 and its main competitor Apple's nearly ubiquitous iPhone. Otherwise, the two devices appear to have plenty in common such as the touchscreen, pinching and squeezing images or Web pages, basic applications, etc. The Linux-based Android operating system does have its own look and feel but since we only were allowed a brief time to play with one it's tough to form a complete opinion as yet.

The burning question, of course, is will the G1 (and subsequent Android-style devices) be enough to unseat Apple, or, for that matter, Microsoft or Nokia? All three have made major inroads into the smartphone market, and questions remain about whether the open-source nature of Android will be enough to lure legions of followers. Having the Google branding certainly helps, but HTC is a relatively unknown manufacturer in the U.S., and many people still choose their phone based on whether they like the service or the plan not whether they can install countless applications. That said, the mindset is slowly changing when it comes to thinking of your phone more like a laptop or a desktop with the ability to tailor it any way you choose.

I won't get into all the specs on the G1 (many found here) but some highlights: it's supported on both the T-Mobile 3G and EDGE networks, has Wi-Fi, a modified Chrome browser that Rubin referred to as "Chrome lite," a 3-megapixel camera that seemed to focus on the subject when we tested it, intriguing Google Maps features like Compass that takes navigation to the street level, downloadable MP3s from Amazon.com, and plenty more. Early downsides: as with other HTC devices there's no standard headphone jack (it's a proprietary USB port), no video capture (which of course the iPhone doesn't have either) and no syncing with Exchange e-mail.

Google hopes to shake up the mobile device market and rethink the way we all, well, think of our portable handsets. There's huge potential (POTENTIAL) for revenue but it's going to be a while before average consumers come around to the idea of downloading content/applications and making that a priority. Will Google's strategy be a big success in time? Search me. There are certainly some skeptics and cautious folks out there. Notable details: G1 goes on sale in the U.S. Oct. 22 for $179 with a service plan that's pretty similar to the AT&T iPhone pricing.

Until next time -- and no matter what device you use -- stay connected!