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Google's Answer to the iPhone

The T-Mobile G1 Android-powered phone, the first cell phone with the operating system designed by Google Inc., is shown Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008 in New York.
The T-Mobile G1 Android-powered phone, the first cell phone with the operating system designed by Google Inc., is shown Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008 in New York. (Mark Lennihan - AP)
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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The world got its first official glimpse yesterday at a smartphone that runs on new software designed by Google. And while no mention was made of any other smartphones during the unveiling of the T-Mobile G1, it was clear that the device has a lot in common with Apple's popular iPhone.

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Photos, music and map services? Check, check and check.

Executives from T-Mobile USA, Google and mobile-phone maker HTC showed off the device at an event in New York. It will be the first smartphone powered by the search engine company's software, called Android.

Naturally, the device is Google-friendly, with a built-in button on the keyboard as a shortcut for online searches. The phone does not connect with Apple's iTunes service, but it comes with software for buying and downloading music from Amazon.com's music store. Featuring an iPhone-like touch screen in addition to a slide-out keyboard, the new gadget will be available Oct. 22 at a price of $179, or $20 less than Apple's device.

With its move into the smartphone market, Google is taking a slightly different approach from Apple. While Apple keeps control over the applications that can be sold or given away at its online store, any programmer can create and distribute software products designed to run on Google's new operating system.

Executives from the three companies underscored that difference as a selling point yesterday. "We think Android is future-proof because it has openness built in," said Google's vice president of mobile products, Andy Rubin.

T-Mobile USA's chief technology officer, Cole Brodman, said yesterday that his company has more phones using Google's software in the works for release next year and beyond.

Those who got an early look at the new T-Mobile phone yesterday gave it generally positive reviews. "It seems to be a strong effort," said Ross Rubin, a tech industry analyst with the research firm NPD. "They've created a very nice consumer experience."

Rubin said that Apple still may have an edge because many users want to connect to the iTunes store; there's also the fact that Apple's device is in its second generation and has already sold several million units. On the other hand, he said, for many consumers, the iPhone's lack of a hardware keyboard is a "strong disadvantage."

Many consumers still choose their mobile carriers before they decide which device to buy, Rubin said. T-Mobile said that it is still expanding its new high-speed "3G" wireless network and expects the service be available in 27 major cities by the time of the device's launch. The company said the high-speed network will be available to 80 percent of its customers.

Other wireless carriers and mobile-phone makers are expected to announce their own versions of smartphones running Android later this year.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin showed up at the end of yesterday's presentation to sing the praises of the new phone and their company's new technology. Brin said he enjoyed tinkering on the phone and had already devised a simple, playful program that measures the amount of time the device spends in the air if someone tosses and catches it.

But while there will soon be an Android store online to sell applications online, Google's phone-making partners probably wouldn't want to see an application that encourages users to toss the device, he admitted, so don't expect to be able to download Brin's program anytime soon. "I'm getting some dirty looks," he said.


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