2008 Year in Review: Google unveils Android mobile operating system

First announced in late 2007, Android--a Linux-based open software platform created by web services giant Google with the stated goal of "fostering innovation on mobile devices and giving consumers a far better user experience than much of what is available on today's mobile platforms"--promises a brave new world of developmental freedom and flexibility, especially in comparison to the strict proprietary nature of the iPhone OS. Where Apple has limited the scope of the iPhone SDK, restricting developers from creating applications that encroach on some proprietary features, the Android SDK is a veritable tabula rasa, limited almost solely by the imagination and technical know-how of the developer in question. Developers who've created applications for both iPhone and Android insist the latter poses far fewer challenges--not only does Google foster a far more collaborative environment, but it's also easier to publish on the Android Market virtual storefront than on the App Store.

So why aren't there as many developers gravitating to Android as there are to iPhone? For starters, it's a question of revenue--Google has insisted that developers cannot sell premium applications through Android Market until the first quarter of 2009. Also, at this particular moment in time there is only one Android-powered device available to U.S. subscribers--the HTC-produced G1, offered by T-Mobile USA, although handset makers like Motorola and Samsung have promised Android phones of their own in 2009. But make no mistake: Android will have legs. Expect future iterations of the software to include a mobile-optimized version of Chrome, the Google-developed web browser introduced in early September--within 24 hours of Chrome's release, Google claimed 1 percent of the global browser market, according to Internet traffic analysis firm StatCounter. Other Android improvements on tap reportedly include video capture, enhanced download functionality and support for speech recognition and Bluetooth. Expect Android to dominate headlines throughout 2009.

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