Open Handset Alliance Gains New Batch of Android Boosters

Fourteen more companies have joined the Open Handset Alliance, throwing their support behind Android — the open source mobile platform developed by Google. The most notable new member is Sony Ericsson, which, interestingly, is a founding member of the Symbian Foundation.

The other new OHA members are AKM Semiconductor, ARM, ASUSTek Computer, Atheros Communications, Borqs, Ericsson, Garmin International, Huawei Technologies, Omron Software, Softbank Mobile, Teleca, Toshiba and Vodafone.

This surge in membership will have a huge impact on the mobile phone industry in general, and it will be a boon in particular for open source devotees who would like to migrate their mobile phones to this framework.

So far, only one device based on the Android platform has been released: HTC’s G1, which is available in the U.S. only through T-Mobile.

That is to be expected with new technology and standards, IDC Senior Research Analyst Ryan Reith told LinuxInsider.

At the same time, rumors have been rampant that other manufacturers — including Motorola — are building Android devices.

Coming Next Year

The new OHA memberships are a clear indication that more companies intend to produce Android devices in the foreseeable future — perhaps as early as next year.

Sony Ericsson will be drawing on its experience with the Walkman and Cyber-shot sub-brands in making consumer-focused multimedia handsets, said Rikko Sakaguchi, CVP and head of creation and development at Sony Ericsson.

Ericsson Mobile Platforms will support Android on selected platforms — both with external application processors and with integrated solutions — including necessary kernel code, drivers and modem interface code from mid-2009 onwards, according to Robert Puskaric, head of Ericsson Mobile Platforms.

Asus will soon deliver Android devices and technology, said HC Hung, general manager of personal mobile devices.

Borqs is on track to launch multiple Android-based handsets with its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners in the first half of next year, CEO Pat Chan said.

Huawei expects to deploy Android devices “toward 2009,” said Vice President Li Jilin.

The Open Handset Alliance did not immediately respond to LinuxInsider’s request for comment.

The lineup of companies now participating in OHA is great for consumers, said IDC’s Reith, as additional research and development, funding and marketing will be the natural result of so many new companies investing in the platform. Furthermore, large numbers of high-profile members tend to induce other companies to sign on as well.

“The goal of any kind of alliance like this is to continue to sign up providers, and I believe we will see more names added,” Reith commented.

How Goes Android?

There is little danger — at least in the next year or so — that established platforms such as Symbian or Microsoft Mobile will be entirely dislodged. For starters, many consumers have not grasped the implications of an open mobile platform phone, Reith said — indeed, many are not even aware that one exists.

The initial uptake of the G1 has been slow, he noted, which could be a reflection of consumers’ unfamiliarity with the concept.

These slow early days, however, may give way to an upcoming surge in both devices and demand. Apart from the new memberships in OHA, Reith has been hearing expressions of interest from vendors that never played in this space. “There will be more devices coming to market than people realize now, I think.”

Once a certain level of awareness is reached, Android will challenge not only the Symbian platform and Microsoft, but also Apple’s iPhone, Scott Testa, a marketing professor at St. Joseph’s University, told LinuxInsider. “There is a demand for a product like this — just like there is a market for Linux OS.”

Whither Symbian?

All of this has implications for Symbian as well. Right now, a battle is underway between OHA and the Symbian Foundation to attract more players in their field, Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of mobile open source company Funambol, told LinuxInsider. “The big news is Sony Ericsson joining the Android bandwagon. They have been a huge supporter of Symbian, and they are breaking out from the pack now that Nokia owns it completely.”

There is a possibility that Symbian will end up being a one-device-manufacturer-shop, Capobianco speculated, while Android will attract many more device manufacturers that do not perceive Google to be competitive in their space.

“This spells trouble for Nokia if it happens,” he said, “since developers go where devices are. Making Symbian open source might not be enough — although it is a very significant step in the right direction.”

Capobianco is also betting that Microsoft will open source Windows Mobile in the not-too-distant future. “They have no other choice.”

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