Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Inside The GPhone: What To Expect From Google's Android Alliance

If you think the Google Phone is all talk, you're wrong: Here are eight technologies--GPS, multimedia, mobile Web browsing, gaming graphics, and more--which Open Handset Alliance members will bring to the upcoming mobile handset.

This story originally appeared on Nov. 13, 2007.

What exactly will the GPhone -- that vaporous handset that's the subject of furious speculation -- actually look like? In the wake of Google's release of its Android mobile-phone software development platform, there's been lots of chatter, but little hard information. This article is intended to change that.

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The GPhone may apply user-interface elements designed by Sweden's TAT.

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Google has publicly listed all the partners in its Android project, under the umbrella of the Open Handset Alliance. By intelligently examining what those companies are working on, we can come up with a fact-based projection of the GPhone's probable feature set.

The allies enlisted to work on the device constitutes a mobile software and hardware elite. There are well-known handset makers like Taiwan's HTC, which fields what some consider a better "iPhone" than Apple, in the form of its sleek Touch. And there are beneath-the-radar innovators, like Sweden's TAT. The software developer's clean but funky user-interface designs could propel the GPhone towards the holy grail of a device which is so simple your Grandma could use it.

While the GPhone won't be revolutionary -- the very existence of the Alliance implies it'll use currently available technologies -- it will connect the pieces in pleasantly new ways. Expect the GPhone to be a handset in Web 2.0 clothing, with a friendlier and more integrated approach to mobile computing than even Steve Jobs has envisioned.

Here then are the eight technologies we can expect to see in the GPhone (or phones) due sometime in 2008.

A Chic Euro User Interface

If Apple's iPhone has set the high water mark for what the cutting-edge smartphone's screen is supposed to look like, it's safe to infer that the GPhone won't try to top that via imitation. Rather, Google and its partners are likely to go in a different direction.

Their journey might lead to Europe, where some of the most interesting user-interface development work is taking place at little-known, Swedish operation called TAT. That's an acronym for "The Astonishing Tribe." The pretentiousness of the name aside, the mobile-software company's work is focused on pushing the limits of cellphone user-interfaces. TAT says it's worked for SonyEricsson, Samsung, TeliaSonera and Orange.

Judging by the evidence, TAT is highly successful at implementing UIs which aren't good looking just for the sake of being hip, but are also well designed. Mostly, they adhere to the time-honored dictum of good design that "less is more," because they squeeze a function down to its essence and pack onto the screen just enough to make, say, email work well.

TAT's design philosophy can be summed up as being based on the belief that current cellphone UIs are too damn complicated. In a white paper, the company notes: "According to a survey, 85 percent of consumers admitted to being too dumb to access or use mobile services, mainly because of increased device complexity."

Interestingly, TAT boasts that its software is platform-independent. That statement gives additional heft to the idea that whatever the Google phone will be, it'll be less a ground-breaking new platform than an amalgam of today's best-of-breed mobile technologies.

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