It's conquered the internet, now Google goes mobile

Billionaire founders of search engine unveil rival to the BlackBerry and iPhone
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The Independent Tech

A rival to the all-conquering BlackBerry and iPhone mobile devices was launched in New York yesterday. Like Apple's iPhone, T-Mobile's G1 offers its users high-speed internet access, a music player, camera and the traditional phone and texting facilities.

The gadget has been dubbed the "Google Phone" because it is the first to use the new open-access software called Android that is being developed by phone companies and Google.

The search engine's eccentric founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, put in a suprise appearance at the launch event sporting rollerblades amid much whoopping and cheering from the assembled crowd, although what their choice of footwear actually signified remained unclear.

Thanks to its new software, many more programmes, or applications, may be developed for the G1 than for the iPhone, over which Apple retains software control. But technology pundits warned that the device would probably struggle to match the hullabaloo surrounding the launch of the iPhone.

Available in the UK from November, T-Mobile's new phone will come loaded with YouTube and two Google applications, the instant-messaging service Google Talk and Google Maps.

Global positioning will enable users to instantly check internet pages relevant to their location. The phone – which will cost £720 for a basic £40-a-month, 18-month contract – is designed to reflect the realities of communication in the internet age, according to Pieter de Klein, T-Mobile's head of new media.

"The whole reason for doing this is that people's behaviour is changing," he said. "In the past, you would use voice and text but nowadays you use all kinds of stuff – instant messaging, email, social networks – so this phone is built with that in mind."

Michael Brook, editor of T3 gadget magazine, said by using open-access software the phone might change the way users interacted with their mobile phones. But the mobile phone analyst Shiv Bakhshi said T-Mobile's device might lack glamour. "I doubt that anything can match the hoopla that has been created by Apple," said Mr Bakhshi, analyst for the US research company IDC. "That cult following may be missing with the Google phone."

Another commentator, Abid Warsi, of Webcredible, said that the open-access software could lead to its undoing. "Given that Google doesn't make the handset itself and the software is being given away free, Google's Android operating system will be funded by advertising and the jury is still out on whether consumers respond particularly well to mobile phone advertising, given the more personal nature of the phone as opposed to say the PC," he said.

T-Mobile shrugged off criticism that the device offered phone users little new. "What's better – a Ferrari or a Mercedes? It depends what you want," Mr de Klein said.

T-Mobile G1

Functions: Phone, text, email, internet, camera, MP3 player, GPS

Keyboard: On handset

Weight: Not known

Cost: £720 18-month phone contract

Tied contract: Yes, T-Mobile

BlackBerry 8310

Functions: Phone, text, email, internet, camera, MP3 player, GPS

Keyboard: On handset

Weight: 111g

Cost: From £640

Tied contract: No

Apple iPhone

Functions: Phone, text, email, internet, camera, MP3 player, GPS

Keyboard: On screen

Weight: 133g

Cost: £639 18-month phone contract

Tied contract: Yes, O2