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Can T-Mobile get an Android onto US market in '08?

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T-Mobile will be pushing out an Android handset in time for its US 3G launch on 1 October, according to rumours floating around the internet. But that deadline could cost the Android ideal dearly.

Google desperately wants to see an Android-based handset in 2008, having said it will happen, and will lose face if it doesn't. T-Mobile could do with some publicity for its 3G launch, which it's claiming will be national but will actually only cover major cities. The operator is also further along than most toward launching an Android handset with HTC, so the rumour is easy to credit.

Getting a handset out this year will be a challenge and Android has suffered from delays, but there are ways in which T-Mobile and Google could compromise to get that headline launch in time for October.

The first task is to dump all the network-branded applications that operators like to install. Rumour has it that porting these applications is proving more difficult than expected and removing them should help the schedule considerably. That might mean less revenue on value-added services for T-Mobile, but they can always be offered as a download later; this might even emphasise the flexibility of the Android platform. Assuming that the device launched by T-Mobile will allow downloading of applications, anyway.

Nothing in the Android licence prevents an operator from launching a locked-down handset unable to download new applications beyond Java Midlets or similar. None of the LiMo handsets so far launched are able to download native applications, despite all being based on that "open" version of Linux. Releasing an Android handset that can't download applications might go against the spirit of the Open Handset Alliance, but it would give T-Mobile that "first Android handset" headline, and most punters wouldn't care anyway.

T-Mobile and Google will move heaven and earth to get an Android-based handset into punters' hands in time for the 3G launch, even if that means pushing the Android brand rather than the dream. ®

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