Google mobile chief says can't afford a dud

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc GOOG.O is betting it can revolutionize wireless Internet service on mobile phones the way that it transformed the search business on PCs.

A prototype of the Google Android mobile by NEC is on display at the Mobile World Congress (formerly 3GSM World Congress) in Barcelona, February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Albert Gea

The search behemoth has already taken on Microsoft Corp MSFT.O in the market for productivity and Web browsing software. Google's Android software is taking aim at Microsoft's Windows Mobile; Symbian, in which Nokia is an investor; and Apple Inc's AAPL.O iPhone, which dominate the smart phone market.

Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms, told Reuters that Android’s success hinges on the reception of the first phone, due out later this month.

“We’re in the final stages and having lots of sleepless nights,” he said in an interview. “We’re very happy with the results,” said Rubin, who worked previously at Apple and a number of Silicon Valley start-ups.

T-Mobile USA TMOG.UL is expected to introduce the first Android phone in New York on September 23, sources familiar with the plan told Reuters this week.

After two years of speculation, Google is under pressure to deliver a product sufficiently different from Apple Inc's AAPL.O iPhone and the myriad copycats that have appeared since it was introduced last year.

Rather than launch the new operating system with a range of devices from several handset makers and phone carriers, Rubin said Google chose to “put our blinders on” and make sure the first phones impress consumers.

“If we come out with a dud, people will go, ‘Well, that was a waste of time,” said Rubin, co-founder and former CEO of Danger Inc, which built the T-Mobile Sidekick, a pioneering Web phone shaped like a bar of soap with an flip-out keyboard.

Google has worked almost exclusively with Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp (HTC) 2498.TW and T-Mobile for the first Android phone, he said.

“Google wanted to make sure that we had enough control over the hardware to make sure the software worked,” he said.

Apple tightly controlled both the hardware and the software of the iPhone, which is seen by many mobile industry watchers as the future of device development.

Prior to working with Google, HTC relied on Microsoft Corp's MSFT.O Windows Mobile for its smart phones. HTC hopes Google's brand and popular services such as search, Gmail or YouTube can attract consumers beyond the business crowd that it expects to continue buying its Windows phones, said Jason Mackenzie, HTC's North American vice president of operations.


The first Android phone, code-named Dream, is depending on independent software developers to build hundreds or even thousands of programs, such as photo sharing, to run on Google software. Rubin said a contest to lure early developers drew 1,759 application submissions.

“Once they leave the store with the device the thing that keeps them happy will be the software,” he said.

Apple’s second-generation iPhone applied the same strategy, and offers more than 3,000 applications through its App Store.

Google plans its own software store, called Android Market. “It’s not necessarily the operating system software that is the unifying factor, it is the marketplace,” Rubin said.

Unlike Apple, Google does not expect to generate revenue by selling applications or to share revenue with partners. “We made a strategic decision not to revenue share with the developers. We will basically pass through any revenue to the carrier or the developer,” said Rubin.

One of Google’s challenges will be for Web page access to work on a mobile device as well as it does on a PC. The Android browser is built on the same technology as the new Google Chrome browser but designed for smaller screens.

“What you get will be Chrome Lite or Chrome To Go or Chrome Mobile,” Rubin said.

Editing by Derek Caney