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‘Google phone’ builds momentum

Barcelona — Google’s bid to dominate the mobile phone operating software market got a boost on Tuesday when Taiwanese handset maker HTC unveiled the third phone based on the US Internet giant’s technology.

The touch-screen HTC Magic is to be sold by British network operator Vodafone and its subsidiaries in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, the companies said at the Mobile World Congress, an industry event in Barcelona.

Rival developers are battling to create the dominant operating system for mobile phones, with Google and its Android system competing with software giant Microsoft, handset maker Nokia, an open-source Linux-based project and Blackberry.

"We are very excited to be introducing our first Android-powered smartphone in the spring," said Patrick Chomet, global director of terminals for Vodafone.

On Monday, Chinese manufacturer Huawei had revealed its first mobile phone that will run Android, meaning there are at least three "Google" phones now developed. LG and Samsung have promised their versions this year.

The first phone to use the Google software was launched by HTC in October last year in partnership with German network operator T-Mobile.

"For a new platform with open source, I am impressed with the momentum growing behind Android," an analyst at telecom research group Informa, Gavin Byrne, told AFP.

Android is "open-source," meaning that the basic code is free for phone manufacturers and is available to other software developers who are encouraged to build applications to add on.

Byrne said he still expected the system by Nokia, called Symbian, to remain dominant in the next five years, but that Android would establish itself as an alternative.

Nokia is the world’s biggest seller of handsets.

Google is hoping to establish its operating system as an industry standard, which would help drive users to its various services including Internet search, maps and chat.

HTC chief executive Peter Chou stressed that people would increasingly access the Internet from their mobile devices rather than in an office or at home — particularly in the developing world.

Google has recognised this, which is the reason it is so keen to establish itself and its applications in the mobile industry, analysts say.

"There is a generation of people from various parts of the world who have never experienced Internet on a PC yet, but they will experience Internet on these mobile devices," Chou said.

Andy Rubin, head of Android at Google, told AFP that the project had gone from concepts and prototypes to realisation in the last 12 months.

At the World Mobile Congress in 2008 the first prototypes for Android were put on display by some operators, creating a buzz among the crowds here.

"Last year there were a lot of promises and expectations. We delivered on those promises," he said.

He said that Android could reduce the manufacturing cost of a handset by 20 percent because the operating system is free.

"Sometimes we don’t even know it when they (manufacturers) announce phones with Android. They don’t need to sign a contract with us," he said, adding that he did not judge success "by the number of handsets."

The HTC Magic is a slim, tablet-shaped device with touch-screen control that, like other high-end phones launched here, has a resemblance to the top-selling Apple iPhone.

Christian Lindholm, an industry commentator and a partner in design consultancy Fjord, said he believed the HTC phone could challenge iPhone in terms of style.

"The first G1 (HTC’s first Android phone) wasn’t principally bad, but it was more of a development platform for the operating system," he told Dow Jones Newswires. "This one is more of a proper Android product."

Adam Plowright/AFP/Expatica