Google this week unveiled the first commercial mobile phone to use the Google Android operating system - the T-Mobile G1.
First, let's look at user interaction with Google Android.
Not unlike Apple's iPhone, Google Android allows users to flick the screen to scroll through items - so long as the hardware supports this aspect of the operating system's functionality. The T-Mobile G1, and therefore Google Android, also supports the "long press", however. So Android phone users can hold a finger to the screen to open up a menu. For example, holding a finger on a photograph opens a menu offering options such as the ability to send the photo to someone else.
Something else Android and the iPhone OS have in common: a browser built on Webkit, the same technology that drives Apple's Safari browser. Webkit is, of course, the basis of Google's other big recent software: Google Chrome. Indeed, Google execs have referred to Android's browser as "Chrome-light".
In a Google Android browser window, a user can drag a small box around the website and the content behind the box is magnified for easier viewing on the small screen.
Google Android also includes a dedicated search button. When users press it, a Google search bar pops up on the screen.
Google Android applications
But it's in applications that Google Android really shines. The T-Mobile G1 ships with many Google applications, including Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and GTalk - and there are loads more to add from the Android store, which is integrated into the OS. You can already find fun and useful programs from Android, many of them free. And applications are easy to find and download.
Google Android is truly expandable. An icon on the desktop sends you right to the Google Android apps page, where applications roll across a panel at the top of the screen. You use your thumb on the touchscreen to make the panel move left or right for more choices and then tap an app's icon to choose it.
Out of the box Google Android phone users can read Word, PDF and Excel documents but initially at least won't be able to synch Microsoft Exchange mail with their phone. The OS is also integrated with the Amazon MP3 store, allowing users to easily buy digital music.
Google Android: the open-platform iPhone?
Another important aspect of Google Android that bears close comparison to Apple and the iPhone: software licensing. Google is about to open-source the Android platform. That means that any developer, in addition to being able to write applications for the software, can also modify the platform. So expect plenty more applications to launch over the coming months and years.
The Google Android launch event featured a video interview with a few developers, some of whom won a contest Google sponsored for developers of Android applications. They talked up the importance of openness - perhaps a jab at iPhone. They stressed that developing for Android is free and that any application can be added to the Android application store. By contrast, iPhone developers have to buy the SDK (software development kit), albeit for a low price, and Apple determines which applications will go into the App Store.
NEXT PAGE: a closer look at two Google Android applications