T-Mobile Invites Android Into the Home

While potential customers and the technology press await T-Mobile’s G2 smartphone later this year, the wireless carrier is reportedly already knee-deep into the development of the next level of devices powered by the open source Android operating system.

The company will roll out a home phone and a tablet/netbook computer sometime in 2010, according to The New York Times, which cites confidential documents generated by a T-Mobile partner.

The home phone will include docking stations and the ability to send and receive data while recharging its battery, the newspaper says. The netbook computer, meanwhile, will not have a keyboard but will feature a touchscreen.

LinuxInsider requested comment from T-Mobile but received no response by press time.

A New Level of Devices

The Android news could indicate a seismic shift in the smartphone market — a shift that’s as much a result of software development as anything that carriers or handset makers are doing in their research labs.

“It just showcases that the market is ready for a change, and Google (Android’s developer) is positioning itself to be the architect of that change,” Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group told LinuxInsider. “The power players aren’t just the carriers. They are enablers, but Google is moving between them and discovering a channel that Microsoft doesn’t have locked up yet.”

T-Mobile’s moves also speak to confidence in the Android platform, Enderle added, which is attracting a development roster rivaling Apple while still building out its market share.

Potential Uses at Home

Those wondering why T-Mobile would think about developing a home phone need only consider the advantages that a Net-enabled wireless handset brings them while on the road.

“The idea of taking that a step further and having a home phone handset, with T-Mobile@Home (the carrier’s US$10-per-month plan) — but with the ability to interact with it for Web-surfing, or interacting with a laptop or Gmail and Google Calendar — is kind of a slick idea,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider.

The tablet/netbook computer part of the equation could also plug into existing offers from T-Mobile for free, unlimited use of company WiFi hot spots, or be bundled in with new service plans.

“There are bits and pieces of infrastructure already out there — hotspots, @Home service — that could easily be leveraged for tablet or netbook offerings,” King said.

Creation vs. Consumption

The current land rush among wireless carriers involves the race to turn smartphones into more computer-like devices. Apple may have won the first leg of this race with its iPhone, but the transformation is just beginning, says Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC.

“Who’s going to cross over into PCs faster? Whoever does will have access to a broad, well-monetized, rich market,” Hilwa told LinuxInsider. “The segmentation that’s taking place in the market is this: There are creation machines, and then there are consumption machines. People run around with iPhones, and they consume email, documents, books, music — but they rarely create them. They’re not being created on these devices.”

T-Mobile may be throwing its weight behind creation, or authoring, devices, Hilwa continued, “and actually, since there’s no established dominant player or platform in the mobile space, some companies are quite ready to write that into the PC space or authoring space. That definitely could be a disruptive force.”

New Netbook Architecture Required

Any success enjoyed by T-Mobile’s G1 phone is all about the software, not the phone itself, said Kevin Burden, a research director atABI Research.

“It’s not the sexiest phone out there. AT&T will tell you that. T-Mobile will tell you that,” Burden told LinuxInsider. “It’s the operating system that appealing to users.”

Android’s open source advantages have already forced changes in operating system planning from market leaders like Nokia, Burden said. Android has already been demonstrated on more robust devices such as netbooks, although some architectural changes need to take place before this next level of mobile computing can truly take off.

“If you look at netbooks right now, most of them are based on x86 processor architecture,” Burden said. “The original idea of a netbook is not exactly what the netbook is today. The way it is today, they are slimmed-down notebook computers running Windows. The original idea was a heck of a lot smaller Internet-access type system, but when x86 gets in there, it’s kind of hard to disconnect from the PC space.

“By the end of this year, we’ll see more ARM-based netbooks, using chips from Freescale and Qualcommm and Nvidia. These systems are not necessarily running Windows. They’ll be running version of Linux and could be running versions of Android too. Then, netbooks become something different than what they are. We’re talking days between charges, 15 hours of battery life. It’s going to be spectacular.”

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