What Android Could Bring to Your Phone

Today marked the launch of the first phone that runs Android, an open-source, Google-designed operating system that runs web-savvy applications on a touchscreen-based phone. We didn’t have an agent at today’s launch of T-Mobile’s G1, but luckily our brothers-in-arms Gizmodo are all over it. We had some pretty high expectations for Android, and it seems to deliver on most of them, with a few caveats. Let’s take a look at what Android can do, and what it might mean for your phone when (or if) it arrives down under.

Note: We pulled the majority of photos in this post, except where noted, from Gizmodo’s Android coverage and related posts. Big ups to the early-rising, photo-taking crew over there.

The basics

The first phone run by Google’s Linux-based phone OS, Android, is the HTC Dream, dubbed as the “G1” by T-Mobile. So far, that’s only an option for US buyers. For details on the phone itself, see Gizmodo’s full details post on the G1/Dream.

Android’s mobile apps

It’s probably not that surprising that Google apps—Gmail, Google Calendar, Maps, and the like—sit close to Android’s heart. In fact, activating the phone requires a Google account. It doesn’t work with Microsoft Exchange, at least not until some third-party hacker makes it work, and there’s no desktop-based syncing application—it’s all in the cloud. If you’re down with that, though, there’s a lot to like from what we’ve seen so far:

  • “Compass View” for GMaps: Amongst other location-aware apps, Google’s own Maps implementation shines on Android. It can figure out where you are, of course, but turn on Street View, start walking around, and it updates to reflect which way you’re facing, giving you a live 3D map of where you need to walk. We won’t know if that would work on, say, the dashboard of a car for faux-GPS directions, but it seems pretty promising.
  • Push Gmail: The Dream/G1 has a heavier consumer focus than the iPhone, eliminating the need to create a faux-Exchange server for push email. Hook up your Gmail account, and you’ve got a ready-built stream of your email messages wherever you’ve got G3 or Wi-Fi coverage.
  • Third-party apps: Amongst the exciting third-party apps for Android, one stands out as a serious convenience: Locale, developed by an MIT class to let phone users pinpoint the places they live and work on a map, then have their phone change behaviour when they’re there. Have your phone switch to silent/vibrate when you’re at the movies, launch certain apps when you’re at a friend’s house, and, in the future, run home automation software when you’re approaching home. The possibilities are pretty endless with apps like these.

Update: Google offers a video showing off how its Gmail, contacts, Calendar, and GTalk chats work with the G1:

The Android Market

Gizmodo has its doubts about the potential of an application store for Android that has no real limits on what and who submits applications. And while it’s true that Android is taking a serious open-source stance—the phone won’t play any media files with any kind of DRM on them, even if you had the rights—it also means developers won’t be hemmed in by not being able to launch background processes, having only restricted access to the phone hardware, or other constraints. Google even promoted the fact that Android apps would be able to access and tweak Gmail, Calendar, and its other online tools, giving us some potentially very cool applications. We’ll have to see how a user-rating system works, and if lack of a desktop component will frustrate users trying to find the things they really want to install.

In addition to apps, Android (at least on the G1) has a built-in hook-up to Amazon’s MP3 store, giving users access to 6 million DRM-free MP3s. Depending on the phone OS’ success, it could be a strong push for more media to drop the copying restrictions and just let users give them money for media.

What do you like, or lament, about what’s been shown off today? Tell us your take in the comments.

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