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Feature: Handheld Devices

Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

By Nathan Willis on December 31, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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The free and open source software community has been waiting for the G1 cell phone since it was first announced in July. Source code for Google's Android mobile platform has been available, but the G1 marks its commercial debut. It's clearly a good device, but is it what Linux boosters and FOSS advocates have long been anticipating?

As a consumer-oriented mobile phone, the G1 competes on equal footing with high-end offerings from the other major players. It supports 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS connectivity. The hardware sports both a capacitive touch screen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard -- not to mention a trackball -- dedicated phone and volume control buttons, 256MB of built-in storage and a microSD slot, an accelerometer, and a 3.2-megapixel camera. The second revision of the device (currently shipping, although we did not receive one) sports a standard headphone jack; early models use the mini-USB jack for audio in addition to charging.

The included applications, from contact manager and dialer to browser and email, are also up to snuff. Kinetic scrolling is everywhere, as are flashy touches such as translucency, blur, and fade-in/fade-out animation.

You won't forget for an instant that the G in "G1" stands for Google. The phone is preloaded with a cornucopia of Google-branded applications, including Google Talk, Google Maps, and a YouTube viewer. There is a POP/IMAP mail client, which works great, and a dedicated Gmail client with additional bells and whistles. When first setting up the phone, you must "associate" it with a Google Account, which allows the device to synchronize calendar, contacts, and Gmail messages over the air.

It's a platform

What about the Linux-based open source Android platform that runs underneath all of the consumer-level apps and features? The easiest way to get a feel for Android as a platform is to explore what developers are doing with it. The G1 includes an over-the-air application catalog and installer tied to the Android Market, through which you can browse hundreds of Android apps and read the reviews of other users.

So far, all of the apps in Android Market are free of charge, which cannot be said of the other two officially sanctioned Android app portals run by longtime mobile app vendors Handango and MobiHand. Selections include the usual bevy of single-purpose IM clients and Web app front ends from sites you've never heard of -- but they also include some interesting utilities that actually try to add functionality to the phone.

Several apps tweak the behavior of built-in apps, such as by adding to the default email client. Others are attempts to add useful apps such as barcode scanning and text editing that are commonplace on other mobile phone platforms. One of my personal favorites is G1 Central, which alters your outgoing Caller ID to reflect your GrandCentral phone number -- functionality not provided on the G1 even though GrandCentral is a Google service.

Then are the utilities you won't find anywhere else, such as terminal emulation, or a full-fledged IRC client. The app browser even has a category for software libraries, which includes text-to-speech and file format conversion.

Whenever you click on an Android Market app to install it, the phone prompts you with a warning about the potential hazards of installing third-party software. But unlike most other devices I have seen, the G1's alert is thorough, listing exactly which data and services the new app will have access to. For instance:

This application has access to the following: Network communication Full Internet access Phone calls Intercept outgoing calls System tools Read system log files, modify global system warnings Your personal information Write contact data, read contact data

Ideally, if a purported background wallpaper package provokes such a reaction from the operating system, users will think twice before installing it.

It's almost free

But what free software fanatics really want to see is an entirely open phone, with source code from the firmware right on up to the applications, and no digital hijinks preventing the owner from tweaking the device to his heart's content. And that the G1 is not -- though it is not far from it. Shortly after the G1's official release, enterprising hackers discovered how to jailbreak the device: install a terminal emulator, then start telnetd from the command line. The Telnet daemon runs as root, so you can connect to it via the Telnet app from Android Market or from another computer on the LAN, and free yourself from the manufacturer's restrictions by, for instance, remounting the filesystem as read/write.

Immediately after the initial jailbreak there were not a tremendous number of hacks for the G1. Most were simple adjustments, such as moving app storage and the browser cache to the SD card to conserve space. Some did go much further, such as replacing the OS with Debian. But it did not matter much; in a matter of weeks, Google released a firmware update that closed the telnetd security hole. Firmware updates are downloaded over the air in the background, and once one becomes available you are prompted to install it once every few minutes.

I found such a firmware update available for the review phone I received from T-Mobile, and elected not to install it. Sure enough, the telnetd trick still worked, even though the device in question was sent several weeks after the hole was publicly announced. I verified that a root shell was available with ls, but did not do anything further.

Ironically, the day after T-Mobile asked for the review phone to be returned, Google announced a similar yet strikingly free-er device, the Android Dev Phone 1. The Dev Phone 1 uses the same hardware as the G1, but is SIM- and bootloader-unlocked, meaning you can use it with any service provider and you can install your own custom system images onto it. It costs $399 -- the same price as a no-contract G1 -- but you must also pay Google a $25 Android Developer registration fee, ostensibly to help the poor company stave off bankruptcy for yet another day. The Dev Phone 1 is a buyer-beware, use-at-your-own risk purchase.

Androids among us

Ultimately, the importance of the G1 depends on what you as a buyer bring to it. If all you want is a good phone, or even a good Linux-based phone, the G1 is a winning proposition. If you want a "free software" phone, buy the Dev Phone 1 instead.

The biggest question surrounding Android is what affect it will have on the mobile phone marketplace. I decline to prognosticate based solely on my experience with the G1, but I will say that I believe that what makes or breaks a smartphone platform is not the device or even the built-in services, but rather the community of third-party applications -- and on that front, Android is doing it right. I have tremendous respect for what the Openmoko team is doing, but right now its energy is focused on building the lower-level phone OS; third-party applications are few. Critics may object to Android's SDK, APIs, or sort-of-Java-but-sort-of-not development scheme, but it is attracting a swarm of developers, many of whom are drawn by the open source licensing. That's a huge leg up, because if there is one thing the FOSS community knows how to do, it is code applications.

Maemo developer Henri Bergius succinctly described the difference between the Nokia N-series and iPhone experiences on his blog: Nokia's preloaded apps encourage you to create -- shoot video, share photos, blog, etc. -- while the Apple platform encourages you to consume -- buy music, buy games, buy apps. Thus far, the Android platform is encouraging users to develop. That could make all the difference.

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on Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.187.206.21] on December 31, 2008 03:08 PM
Great article! I just wanted to add two points that really made me fall in love with my Android. A great hack that has come to surface for "Jailbroken" or "rooted" phones is tethering via IPTables. By using this hack the Android phone is effectively turned into a Wireless Access Point sharing the 3G connection, everyone is still working on incorporating security into the wireless connection currently it only supports an Ad Hoc mode. I happen to be one of the unfortunate few that had purchased my phone prior to the release of the Android Dev 1, although with a "rooted:" phone one is able to flash the Developer Bootloader and subsequently load your own personally signed and compiled images.

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.158.232.98] on December 31, 2008 05:57 PM
does google contribute to the linux kernel? they are running it inhouse on all their servers and on my desktops. they are also profiting from the android which uses it. its time to pony up on kernel development if they arent already.

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Re: Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Nathan Willis on December 31, 2008 07:18 PM
Yes, they do. In addition, they contribute to multiple non-kernel open source projects, on some of which -- such as Tesseract -- they essentially fly solo.

Nate

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.75.245.137] on December 31, 2008 07:30 PM
Interesting take on the true "openness" of G1, but its Android itself that is open sourced, not the claim that the G1 is a free for all programming phone.

I am curious to your thoughts on the CupCake update as well?

,Michael Martin
http://www.googleandblog.com/

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Re: Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Nathan Willis on January 01, 2009 03:35 PM
To be clear, I didn't claim that the G1 was intended as a "free for all programming phone." I did observe that such a "free for all" device seems to be what a lot of open source advocates and contributors are interested in. Consequently, wondering whether or not Android is a suitable platform for such a device makes many of those advocates and contributors interested in the G1. They'll likely be interested in the next Android device to reach market, too, especially if it is from a different company that provides a slightly different take. And, you know, they'll be interested in the next round of OpenMoko and Maemo devices, too.

Unfortunately, CupCake wasn't available during my review period with the phone. All I personally have seen are the previews.

Nate

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Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.35] on January 01, 2009 12:15 AM

[Modified by: Nathan Willis on December 31, 2008 06:53 PM]

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Are the Google bashers happy yet?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.240.216.166] on January 02, 2009 01:57 PM
Anytime Google comes up theres always somebody asking about them giving code back to the community (even though forcing that upon them is against the spirit of the GPL to begin with.). Now they have given the community an entire mobile phone OS stack and you STILL have people asking about contributions. Theres your contribution right there. And on top of that it appears that they have taken it all a step further an introduced an OS with a managed code app and UI layer. Thats where MS wants to go with .Net and where half the Linux community will want to go AFTER they see MS do it *smh*....or they'll let Mono continue to seep in. Google basically made the Java integration for you....or at least a roadmap.

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I'm a Google basher. No, I'm not happy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.131.41.49] on January 02, 2009 03:46 PM
Ok, so I've admitted it. I dislike google. Let me be clear .... most of what Google does isn't bad. However, in the collective "GOOGLE", it is bad, really bad.

I dislike all the private information that 1 entity holds, google.

I dislike that websites everywhere add to that information by using google-analytics (including linux.com, BTW)

I dislike that many people use gmail - forcing me to give up my privacy just to communicate with them. I didn't agree to have my email read, parsed, and collated by google.

Look at the other 50 google applications that you use and all the information that you "give" them about yourself, your friends, your business .... er, for free! I read that google makes $400/yr from advertising information gained by users. Would you pay google $400/yr to keep that data private OR to use their suite of services? I didn't think so.

I have a Nokia N800 since I didn't want to be tied to a mobile data plan for $50/month.

I LOVE the idea of Android phones. I actually use T-Mobile (with a pay-as-you-go phone plan around $70 total last year). I hate that it is tied to google services so they can grab even more of my information. Thanks, but until google agrees in writing to securely wipe all personally identifiable data every 24 hours, no thanks google.

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any word on g2/next android phone?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.221.247.69] on January 02, 2009 04:42 PM
I avidly followed the development and release of Android (the only thing that really frustrated me prior to release was their inability/unwillingness to natively support languages other than their java-esque hybrid; strange considering how much google fluffs python that they wouldn't have chosen that as the main api language...); however, after the release of the g1, i was forced to cool my jets, primarily because the phone (the hardware) is UGLY! I don't want a sidekick (are those still around even?) I want a smart-phone. I listened eagerly to rumors of the HTC Touch HD or Touch Pro coming out as the G2 before the new year, but here we are at Jan 2nd and no news afaik.

So, does anybody have any reliable scoop on the next (american market) phone to come with android installed?

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.209.113.1] on January 02, 2009 07:24 PM
You guys should know that there now is a downgrade availible for all those stuck on the new firmware(RC30) both for US & UK. So this phone is as open as it gets atm! =)

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Rover - red Rover ?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.35] on January 07, 2009 12:14 AM
Oh no! Dr. will a cathater be needed? - I think the G1 is a step in the right direction and open software may have needed a powerhouse like google to make it work commercialy I think the next step if not availed by usb wireless is to make portable lap tops phone compatable. The value of a G1 type device is as a portable interface to your home pc and a generalized bussiness application that works as a manager, map, worker and assignment contact manager, job and proccess reporting, budget and bookeeping apps. If I designed a mini lap top or umpc I would make it half the size of a magazine since this has probably evolved a comfortable field of view, like placing the title on a tile page slitly above center. It would be a touch tablet with optional keyboard that slid out from under the tablet and typed while flat on a serface, the keys would be the size of the left hand of an accordian so the whole key board needn't be more than two inches. It would accept wirrless key board mouse and be able to broad cast or connect to a larger screen and run apps from a thumb drive. - hold the pistol or pull the parachut . . this looks like a clasic put down the ducky conundrum as applied to domocrat empty retoric.

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: ubudog on January 13, 2009 11:50 PM
The G1 is a great phone.

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DAY'O

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.35.34] on January 16, 2009 06:44 PM
. . some wood pecker trying to fly over the rainbow ends up in your airplains engine and you end up in the hudsen river! Inspired by a popular TV program possibly reffrencing the oft associated Dante' regards to entropy, as a practical html project an invetory controll program could print menus for resturants based upon available inventory and creating a perchasing inventory based upon sales. These features could be used with the food industry to creat orders for dilivery services. With resonable methods to insure freshness and safty such as a seal that is chemicaly reactive to temp and exposure or rfid to determin age and a storage profile. Day old food could go to soup kitchens or used if qualified for institutionalised consumpsion in schools or prisons or the zoo to help reduce the cost of opperation sold at some commodity price. Also to reduce direct labor cirtain resturaunts participating in the program could contract durring slow or after hours to creat prepared meals. An example would be chinees take out or pizza for work crews

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. . . they said he was to young . .

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.40] on January 21, 2009 12:20 AM
Shiny happy people. As the U.S. transfers power to what could be regarded by other forms of government, a pleab. President Obama presents an ellegant expression, transendent at times, depicting the simple digne that identifies America as a country born of principled knowledge. Let me give his speach its due with some space.(a collumn inch or two - sometime these chat boxes remove all the extra spaces)









Ok, It was a classy speach but lets not forget that in mechanics, manufacturing, distribution, sales and many other systems including public discourse that words and action define integrity and that a "slip" value usually attends to a measure of effecency. And, when words and actions become to negetivly correlated that a vulgar slag of sheister can be applied. "lets hope not" Mr. Obamas speach was a rebuke of the democrat party as it contrasted the mountain of shifting coruption associated with the democrats and their vial repute of the economy since they won a majority in 06. As Obamas campain and 20 days of sennat experience was fraught with scandle as he stood at the top of the finacial crisis being only second in campain contributions. The republicans are in good shape yet are looking at a lot of uphill to keep America from the clutches of over extended government. The U.S. still is in need of energy and the real jobs created by its production and not just the 3-7 percent available as wind and whatever mistical majic reponsible for close to $5.00/gal. petrole. With government jobs averaging 2x the wages earned in the private sector I smell some equal rights and an emergent privilaged government subsidized class being promoted by enslaving a private sector for there gov. largess and to tip the vote in their favor as failed policy has created a reported 40% of the public that dosn't pay taxes (unbelievable). - Essential Linux Device Drivers lays bare the workings of the linux opperating system an would be a valued addition to a course in industrial techknowledgy, computer science or ellectrical engineering. - I would like to convey my hopefull expectation of Obama's success his youth and mental vigor should be an asset and lets hope his inexperience creats a reliance upon logic and reason rather than traditions of party practice.

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Re: . . . they said he was to young . .

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.121.99.105] on January 27, 2009 05:11 AM
You may want to learn to write in regular everyday "English Speak" (nothing exotic ... that would be completely beyond your peanut-sized brain), then maybe, just maybe you can contribute something to this forum that may be remotely considered as constructive.

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.253.127.157] on January 24, 2009 11:29 PM
Come on man wheres the flash player for the phone .Does anybody have something they can come up with .Man without your web browser is dead .Please Please lets get flash already !!!

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Android-powered G1 phone is an enticing platform for app developers

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.153.166.56] on January 25, 2009 01:01 AM
I think / i hope it will comes .

Dirk from http://www.altersvorsorgeinfos.de

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Reports of France making p2p with upload and download equality availible could be an opportunity.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.32] on January 27, 2009 09:59 PM
Like ham bands and puplic alotment by the FCC, the puplic offten dosen't know or care to exploit opportunity. A money trail offen provides and incentive to develop products and services. Making equal available up/down bandwidth available is a major step towards opportunity, but what kind of opportunity. I think many features could be explored and sifted as they may not all work out that well. When ellectricity was invented or power generation all kinds of machines were suposed to take over the world as it was at the time only for the most part to be lost to antiquity while yet unknown uses of switches and mechanism ultamatly became ubiquitus. I think a filter farm and co-ops could become and effective layer for p2p as a person may wish to host only cirtain items. They could create there own filter or chose from clubs of common interest. These filters should " AND and XOR " so a specific filter could be used to either accept or block content. The filters should allow combining so they can be overlapted to create costom selectivity. They should have a discard and a do not pass but save for refrence so filter tuning can occure. Co-ops could be book clubs or hobby or profestional interst groups that maintain content or indexes of specified content like Ham radio weather reports or solar conditions. A group could be used to passivly monitor radio frequency distress calls to store and forward. And perhaps the greatest opportunity would be to create grade level forums with various (encrypted for safty) channels for content that allow one dirrectional down load of instruction materials and class or teatcher or tutor access for a variety of subjects. Likewise a reading club could help unearth copywrite expired content writen language, music, and translations. Also filters for education could be monitored or subject to a school board or police or leagal review. Other content or a filter of problamatic or malwar could be available. Public service facilities for transportation or events managment. And lastly but not exhaustivley a co-op could allow commercial sponsorship or addvertisement tags. By distributing add revenue an insentive to provide service and efficient hardware would be incuraged and could be offered to genneral periodical publishers as an inexpensive distribution channel.

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Not See Plot Sea

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.31.33] on January 28, 2009 11:11 PM
Principles often direct practice by such infinite varience as to appear unseen. Ex. Obama proclaims an ambition to wrist responsibility from the private and bussiness sector with a reach that exceeds democrats grasp not seen since Sadam Hussain prosecuted a school girl for language used in a homework assignment that by western standards was inocuous. Somehow democrats fail to realise the job of gov. is to stay out of the way of the private sector and bussiness providing furtile soil that promotes supirior education (by way of vouchers that reward excellence) that fosters the hope and ambition of enterprise. Free software holds the promise of assisting local state and thereby fedral budgets meet the demands of education by providing inexpensive distribution of educational resources.

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Well . . weael . . . whe heh hal?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.12.11.85] on January 30, 2009 02:40 AM
Wheel it! I wonder with industries concerned about intelectual property, maybe the patent and or copywrite mite have an ongoing project to creat a data base. As a safe guard a person could send in a precheck befor post . . . (comment, image) and a price, contact or warning for use would show up. If the property is available at all, owners could claim a variety of compensation from up fround flat rates, %, per use fee or no use. This would be a precurser to using something were one would think free speach or fair use could be defined. In a quest to simplify recoarse and provide reasonable and conciencious aproch to communicating. When a language becomes to incombered a complaint box could be made available. Republicans don't have a lot to say out of an efficiency bourne of principles distiled from the ethos it just works that way and most offen good enough. Like a hardware driver that gets reused for a variety of applications or users! Kind of like the supper bowl, unlike democrats as an analogy trying to make one team win and telling every body that playing the game is unneccesary, one can enjoy the journey as the game unfolds and the winner demonstrates ecceptional or neccesary compliance to principles that succeed, wiht out those principles neccesarily having to be articulated or administerd.

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