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Friday, March 09, 2007

Here comes Google Phone

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From iPhone to Zune Phone and now the Google Phone, it is clear that the tech giants want a grab of the lucrative Phone industry.

Andy Rubin has a team of about 100 people at Google working on the Google Phone. So people have been paying attention. Andy was the founder of Danger and later Android, which he sold to Google in August of 2005. Andy is a systems guy and so it’s a good bet that he’s working on an OS for the famed Google Phone.

To help the cause, in July 2005 Google also acquired Reqwireless, a mobile applications company that has apparently played a role in developing the suite of Google mobile apps.

What is more or less unknown is that later in 2005, Google bought Skia. (That acquisition is not part of even the Wikipedia list of Google acquisitions and there is very little information about this on the Net.) Skia was founded by Mike Reed, a device software guru who’d built a very tight vector-based presentation engine.

“Skia’s first product, SGL, is a portable graphics engine capable of rendering state-of-the-art 2D graphics on low-end devices such as mobile phones, TVs, and handhelds,” the Web site said. “SGL is feature-set compatible with existing 2D standards, making it ideal to serve as a back-end for public formats such as SVG, PDF, and OpenVG. SGL is licensed as source or binary, and can be customized to match specific HW/framebuffer requirements.” (Source: LocalTechWire)

It is the Skia acquisition that ties together the Google Phone story for me. You’d bring a guy like Andy in just because he knows mobile broadly speaking. But you really wouldn’t need Skia if you weren’t planning to own mobile presentation, i.e., create a phone top.

So what has been announced so far about the Google Phone? Coming up to 3GSM there was a lot of speculation about Google and Orange marketing a phone together. The phone would have been manufactured by HTC–a Windows Mobile device no less. Most recently, in January, Google announced a partnership with Samsung where Google’s mobile services will be provided on select Samsung phones. Further, there are rumors that Google and Samsung will build a new phone, codename Switch, together. Pictures were leaked. (Update: CNet picked this post up and their text insinuates that I got the photo below. That’s not true. The photo was leaked to Engadget.)

I’m not sure whether the pictures leaked are accurate (looks too much like an iPhone, no?), but here is what I have learned from my inside source:

  • Blackberry-like, slick device
  • C++ core w/ OS bootstrap (some version of Linux?)
  • Optimized Java running on the C++ core (similar to what Andy did at Danger)
  • Vector-based presentation courtesy of Skia’s technology
  • Many services, including VoIP

This type of phone architecture is similar to the ideal mobile stack I’ve written about previously. It is interesting that Google is going with vector-based presentation, a la Flash Lite, as opposed to DHTML/AJAX.

The most interesting aspect is the go-to-market strategy. Apparently, Google is planning to build distribution relationships with multiple carriers by allowing them to minimize subscription and marketing costs. In other words, Google will market the phone online and carriers will fulfill. How fast can you say dumb pipe?

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