Google Turns Unshackled Android Loose on Devs

While the Google-backed Android gang is busy building applications and trying to get new phones manufactured, Google itself has ponied up a new unlocked device for developers: the Android Dev Phone 1. Basically, it’s a “T-Mobile G1” that’s SIM-unlocked and hardware unlocked, which will let users run it with carriers other than T-Mobile. It costs US$399.

“The device ships with a system image that is fully compatible with Android 1.0, so you can rely on it when developing your applications. You can use any SIM in the device and can flash custom Android builds that will work with the unlocked bootloader,” notes Google on its Android developer Web site.

It should appeal most to developers who live outside of T-Mobile geographies, though it’s possible for savvy mobile phone prosumers to snag one themselves.

“It is possible that a consumer who really wants an Android phone today, but lives in an area outside T-Mobile’s coverage area, would want to pick one of these up,” Avi Greengart, research director of mobile devices for Current Analysis, told LinuxInsider.

“But you need to register as a developer first, so you’re jumping through a few hoops. More importantly, it allows programmers and weekend hackers to write Android applications and run them on a real device — the SDK (software development kit) and an emulator have been online for months now — without having to sign up for a contract and a data plan,” he added.

You Sure You Know What You’re Doing?

Still, on its Devices for Developers pages, Google is discouraging non-developer end users. “Since the devices can be configured with system software not provided by or supported by Google or any other company, end users operate these devices at their own risk,” Google notes.

To purchase an Android Dev Phone 1 device, a buyer must shell out $25 to become an Android developer via the Android Market site. To accommodate demand, Google is limiting buyers to a single device, so guys who dream of reselling an official unlocked G1-like phone can forget about it.

Dev Program Not So New

It’s important to note that while Apple’s iPhone spent years closeted in secretive development, Google isn’t doing anything wild here.

“Offering reference hardware to developers is not new and not confined to mobile phones,” Greengart explained.

“For example, when Sony creates a new PlayStation game console, they will offer a developer kit which includes a sample game console. When Microsoft creates a new version of Windows Mobile, they will offer a hardware reference kit as well. Before the devices ship, the reference designs are not production units, and can have a cobbled-together feel, but once the product is out on the market, the unlocked HTC G1 is a lot like what any developer kit might look like,” he added.

Overall, the future for Android and Android-based phones will continue to evolve into a variety of directions, and both developers and consumers can look forward to a variety of options beyond today’s T-Mobile G1 and unlocked Google version.

“I don’t think Android plays by different rules from other mobile operating systems — it will benefit from a variety of devices, form factors, vendors, and carriers. It’s still a very young OS, and I wasn’t expecting more than just the single HTC handset out before the end of the year,” Greengart said.

Coming to a Store Near You

The Android Dev Phone 1 will be available for purchase in 18 international markets, including the U.S., UK, Germany, Japan, India, Canada, France, Taiwan, Spain, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Poland and Hungary, according to Google, which plans to expand to new geographies over time.

“It’s a good way to get the device to developers in markets where a Google phone may land next,” Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless for The 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

The Android Dev Phone 1, he added, will have only a limited impact on overall sales of the device — and it’ll help Google more than HTC and T-Mobile.

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