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Gee Whiz With 'gPhone'

So, let's just say that, maybe, perhaps -- for example -- you recently bought yourself an Apple iPhone, maybe, for example. Ahem. Am I, I mean, are you excited about the now official Google-esque phones? Or are you more ambivalent? Kinda confused about what they'll look like? In any case, you're not alone. Google announced its major foray into the mobile space Monday by (sort of) describing its Android mobile operating system. Will Android do to cell phones what Google did to Web searching?

Of course that's the $220-billion question. But with Google's track record and mass appeal thus far it's impossible to discount their entry into this market. (Well, "entry" might be the wrong word. Millions of people already use mobile Google applications to search, look at maps or send e-mail.) Android would be an open source platform, meaning developers could get in there and tinker with whatever applications they wanted. Customization is key.

Despite endless speculation there won't be a "gPhone" handset, per se, since the hardware will still be made by the likes of Qualcomm and Motorola. Instead, there'll be dozens or hundreds of them with the Android operating system throughout the device. According to Google, Android will enable a more user-friendly and timely mobile Internet experience. (Google developed the system with the 34-member Open Handset Alliance, which includes Qualcomm, Motorola, T-Mobile, Texas Instruments, LG and NTT DoCoMo.) What many U.S. carriers will do with Android remains to be seen.

The guy behind the Android is Google's director of mobile platforms, Andy Rubin, who was profiled in (among other places) this weekend's New York Times. He talks a good game about needing to put more control in the hands of mobile phone users, encouraging new development and essentially redefining what a mobile Internet experience can be. But without seeing Android in action, of course, it's hard to know exactly what lies ahead. How will Android do battle with Windows Mobile or Apple's iPhone? Or any of the other countless smartphone devices already out there for that matter? Since the first Android-style devices won't be available until spring 2008, we're left searching for the answer.

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