The Google phone is official — sort of.
Confirming its long-rumored move into the cell-phone market, the Silicon Valley titan announced Monday that it's finishing up a mobile-software package that will include an operating system and applications — and cost absolutely nothing.
But in keeping with a company ethos that won't allow fancy cars in the parking lot at its Mountain View headquarters, Google is refusing to call its creation the "Google phone."
Instead, the project is called Android, after the start-up company that Google gobbled up in 2004 for its mobile software, and Google won't be making or marketing any phones itself.
"This is going to bring the Internet into cell phones in a very cool way," Android co-founder Andy Rubin, now Google's director of mobile platforms, said at the announcement.
Android developers plan to release a software development kit within a couple of weeks, but phones that come loaded with the platform won't hit the market until the middle of next year.
Its chief partners in the newly formed Open Handset Alliance include, as expected, Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile carrier, Taiwanese handset maker HTC, cell-chip maker Qualcomm and U.S. cell-phone pioneer Motorola.
Sprint Nextel, which had been rumored to be on board, was not named as a major player in the announcement, but was listed among 34 "founding members" of the Open Handset Alliance along with Intel, eBay, Samsung and Texas Instruments.
"This partnership will help unleash the potential of mobile technology for billions of users around the world," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in the press release.
Google's aims are both mercenary — it wants a chunk of mobile-Internet ads and services, and can't risk being shut out by Microsoft, which licenses its widely used Windows Mobile platform — and idealistic, as the free, open-source Android platform will likely be "ported" to dozens of existing cell-phone handsets.
The Open Handset Alliance posted a droll video featuring several Android developers talking about how wonderful the platform would be. Rubin himself was missing, but was represented by his dog.
Even with its market debut months away, Google's software looms as a significant threat to other mobile operating systems made by Microsoft, BlackBerry maker and operator Research In Motion, Palm and Symbian, which is owned by Nokia and several other major phone makers.
Because Android will cost nothing, it could undercut rivals who charge handset makers to install their operating systems. It also promises to make smart phones less expensive since manufacturers won't have to pay for software.
Both Motorola and Samsung already license Microsoft's Windows Mobile software for some of their phones.
Unspoken but clear was the intimation that a high-end Android-based smartphone may finally give American consumers everything they want.
U.S. cellular carriers are loathed by techies for severely restricting what can be done with the handsets they sell customers, a regimented, difficult-to-alter arrangement that has been referred to as "the walled garden" and gotten the carriers compared to "Soviet ministries."
For example, HTC sells smartphones in Europe with both speedy 3G mobile Internet access and Wi-Fi capabilities built in.
But when American carriers brought the same models across the Atlantic, they disabled the Wi-Fi chips so that U.S. users would be forced to use the carriers' pricey data plans to get on the Internet.
Apple's iPhone was rightly lauded as one of the first U.S. smartphones with Wi-Fi, but it uses a slow cellular-data network and doesn't have the instant-messaging or video capabilities of most other high-end phones.
"This is a shot that is going to be heard around the world, but it's just the first shot in what is going to be a very protracted battle in the next frontier of the mobile Web," said Michael Gartenberg, a Jupiter Research vice president.
Some key details, like pricing and how many phones will be shipped next year, have yet to be worked out.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.