REDWOOD CITY, Calif. T-Mobile plans to drive open software platforms across all its handsets, an executive for the cellular carrier said today. The news emerged at a conference where T-Mobile and other speakers touted the coming Google Android platform as an "iPhone for the masses" that will help spur open innovation in handsets.
"We are working on a new approach for all our platforms so developers can have access to open software development kits and applications programming interfaces," said Joe Sims, general manager of new business development for T-Mobile, speaking at the Wireless Innovations conference here Tuesday (April 22).
"The computer industry did this many years ago and it spawned the development of several major companies. Now we want to do it in cellular," said Sims.
T-Mobile is expected to be the first carrier to field a cellphone using Google's Android platform when it launches a handset using the software later this year. Ultimately it will support many devices using the Linux-based software with links to Google's Internet services.
"We are very excited about a set of open APIs and a variety of devices using them," Sims said of Android. "I hope it will generate development of not dozens but tens of thousands of new applications that will spawn a new level of excitement in this industry," he added.
Sims would not say what other open platforms the carrier is planning to promote on its network or when it would roll them out. Other speakers noted the Sidekick smart phone used by T-Mobile is gaining interest among developers.
Carriers have been increasingly vocal about allowing a broader set of devices and apps to run on their networks, spurred on by the launches of Android, the Apple iPhone and calls from the Federal Communications Commission for more openness. That's a change, at least in attitude, from their past stance as slow-moving gatekeepers maintaining walled gardens of closed applications separate from the Web.
"All carriers have a lot of baggage," said Sims. "We know we are hard to do business with. We can be caught up in our own bureaucracy with the size of our business," he added.
T-Mobile now takes three to nine months to get a new application up on its network and took even longer to negotiate a deal to bring the MySpace social network to handsets.
"It took us way too long," said Sims. "If we took this much time with every developer it would be disastrous," he said.
Sayeed Choudhury, a product manager for systems software at Qualcomm's chip division, said his company is currently working with OEMs on more than five handsets that will use Android. The phones should ship in the next 12-18 months, he said.
Qualcomm was among many companies who demonstrated working Android devices at cellular shows earlier this year. Developers are now bringing up media applications on the systems and then will turn to work on location-based services and systems optimization for lowest power and maximum throughput, he said.
Choudhury said the Android phones will have similar features to the Apple iPhone but be available at prices closer to mass market feature phones and sport better links to Web services for photos, video and more, he added. "Google has really thought through what Apple has just begun to unlock," said Choudhury.
Qualcomm also supports its own Brew environment, Microsoft's Windows Mobile and the Linux platform of the LiMo Foundation.
"It's still early days for the LiMo platform but we believe it will get there," said Choudhury, noting his company is involved in early R&D on three handset designs for the software. "Having two flavors of Linux is better than the dozens of proprietary environments we have seen to date," he added.
Nedim Fresko, director of strategic platform initiatives at Research in Motion, said his company embraced the open movement years ago by basing its environment on Java.
"We have found some killer apps like mobile email, but we need to do a lot more experimentation to see what else works," he said.