Google, Inc. and T-Mobile today unveiled their much-anticipated G1 mobile phone, their answer to Apple's iPhone. The new T-Mobile G1 is expected to vigorously compete with Apple's iPhone when it hits store shelves on October 22 for high-end smart phone users who count on their mobiles nearly as much as they do their PCs for Internet access.
At $179, the G1 is cheaper than the 3G iPhone, which starts at $199. Despite rumors to the contrary, however, G1 users, like their iPhone compeers, will have to pay for Web access; ditto their e-mail accounts. Just as Apple's iPhone is joined at the hip with AT&T's wireless network, the G1 can be used only on T-Mobile's network. T-Mobile's data plans start at $25 per month.
The G1's not-so-secret weapon is Android, which provides the phone's operating system as well as a platform for the phone to run a variety of software programs. Google wrote Android using open-source software, which means any programmer has access to the source code that makes Android tick and can write software that runs on any mobile phone using Android.
Google has also created the Android Market, a Web site from which G1 users will be able to download an ever-expanding number of programs to their phone. ShopSavvy, for example, lets G1 users scan bar codes on products at stores with the camera on their phones and do instant price comparisons with online merchants and nearby stores. Another software program, Ecorio, allows users to record the steps they take throughout their day to calculate their carbon footprint.
"This is as good a computer as you had a few years ago, in your phone," said Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president of products, at a press conference today introducing the new phone. Page, who like Google co-founder and technology president Sergey Brin, arrived at the event wearing roller blades, added that, although the Internet still is not as robust on a mobile phone as it is on a PC, the G1 is an attempt to deliver a useful version of the mobile Web, particularly because people are more likely to be carrying their cell phone than their laptop, particularly when doing things like rollerblading.
The collective goal of Google, Austria-based T-Mobile and HTC Corporation headquartered in Taiwan (which makes the handset) is to create a bigger market in the U.S. for mobile Internet, which is now accessed primarily by laptops. "We're here to change that," Cole Brodman, T-Mobile USA's chief technology and innovation officer, said at the news conference. Brodman pointed out that the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in mobile Internet usage, because most cell phones here lack the tools to access the Internet (the iPhone being one exception, of course). Peter Chou, HTC's president and CEO, added that the G1 is a "fundamental shift in where and how people consume the Internet."
Unlike the iPhone, the G1 features a mini QWERTY keyboard, which is accessed by sliding the touch screen to the side. When the keyboard is being used, the screen's orientation changes from vertical to horizontal. The G1 can open files created using Word, Excel and other Microsoft programs, with the exception of Exchange.
Apple fans will not be able to play their iTunes music files on the G1. Instead, T-Mobile is offering its own music service through Amazon Music.
Although the G1 does work with older T-Mobile networks, the device is designed to work best when connected to T-Mobile's 3G network. Current T-Mobile customers in the U.S. can preorder the T-Mobile G1 beginning today. (Everyone else has to wait until next month to pick up a G1 at a retailer or order via the Web). The T-Mobile G1 will be available in the U.K. beginning in November, and across Europe (including Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands) in the first quarter of 2009.
Nearly lost in the shuffle is Canada-based Research In Motion (RIM), which the AP reported today is planning to launch a touch-screen version of its BlackBerry smart phone. Although few details are available (such as when exactly it will be available), the AP reports that the new device will be called the BlackBerry Storm 9530 and provide RIM with a product that is more competitive in the consumer market with the iPhone and, now, the G1.