"What will you do with Android?" That's the provocative question posed by Android software engineer Dave Bort on the new blog for the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), the new initiative launched by the Google-led Open Handset Alliance.
On the eve of the official launch of the first Android-powered handset, the T-Mobile G1, Google has shaken the mobile-device industry again by making public the entire Android platform source code.
"This is an exciting time for Android, and we're just getting started," Bort said. "It takes a lot of work to keep up with the changes in the mobile industry. But we want to do more than just keep up; we want to lead the way, to try things out, to add the new features that everyone else is scrambling to keep up with."
The AOSP Web site contains a variety of developer resources, including a project layout, release features, a project road map, and information about licenses. According to the road map, AOSP plans to implement localized languages, including German, French and Italian; offer simultaneous access to different applications at multiple access points; and, beginning next year, support for alternative input methods (currently Android is limited to keyboard input).
Not Just Mobile
In typical Google fashion, the company is proposing a future for Android that goes well beyond the mobile-handset market.
"One device is just the beginning," Burt said. "Android is not a single piece of hardware; it's a complete, end-to-end software platform that can be adapted to work on any number of hardware configurations. Everything is there, from the bootloader all the way up to the applications."
As a result, Android could theoretically be incorporated into any device limited in terms of memory, processing power, or screen size. The possibilities range from the likely -- automobile GPS systems or cable set-top boxes -- to the improbable -- an Internet-ready microwave, for instance.
By releasing the Android source code, Google hopes to provide the nation's garage tinkerers with a sophisticated but constantly improving operating system that, at least on small devices, will provide direct competition to Windows Mobile and Apple's iPhone platform. Lurking in the background is the possibility that Android could grow into an operating system capable of taking on Windows Vista or Mac OS X.
Some Fine Print
As Forbes magazine noted, Android was not released entirely as open-source software, at least as that concept is understood by the open-source movement.
The most significant difference is that Google has specified an Apache License for Android, which means that if users or businesses create derivative products based on Android, they are not required to make those products open or share them with other members of the Android community. By contrast, any programs or products created using the LiMo open-source platform must be shared with everyone else.
Image credit: Product shots by Google.