Google is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with Oracle over the use of Java technology in the Android OS and although many might not regard weeks of courtroom wrangling as the most scintillating of stories, the proceeding have has thrown some interesting information in the form of an early design for a Google phone, put together in 2006.
The outlines for the prospective handset, drawn up two years before the first Android handset was launched, reveals that the tech giant’s plans for entering the mobile market changed significantly between this concept and the release of the first Android-powered device, the HTC Dream, in October 2008. It’s also evident that Google was heavily influenced by its contemporaries during the design process.
Back in 2006, Motorola’s original RAZR was a big seller and Blackberry was a popular brand. Older designs such as Nokia’s 6230 were still amongst the most popular handsets around and QWERTY keypads were very much the norm. These design traits are something that is echoed in the recently discovered plans for Google’s first attempt at producing a mobile device. Its rounded edges and physical keypad are similar to the format that Blackberry is still sticking to, but in terms of general aesthetics, the Google phone was way ahead of the likes of the 6230.
Although the exact spec details aren’t complete it is said that the design included two soft menu keys, a detail that perhaps indicates the absence of a touchscreen. By the time the HTC Dream made its debut, Apple had launched the iPhone which had a huge influence on handset design. It’s possible that Google altered the way it was thinking about its first handset as a result and changed the design to suit the trends of the time, building a phone with a large touchscreen and slide-out physical keypad.
The rest of the Google phone’s specs are pretty impressive considering the time at which the plans were produced. The design called for an ARMv9 processor running at at least 200MHz and 64MB of RAM. There was also a 2 megapixel camera and a QVGA display with 16-bit colour support.
Compare that to the specs of something like the Nokia 6230, which had only 6MB of internal memory for storage, and the Google phone looks impressive. The specs also mentioned a chat-based SMS feature (presumably the threaded way of viewing text messages which is now commonplace) that was ahead of its time.
Android has come a long, long way since this first design was created and the standards within the mobile industry have changed too. The QWERTY keypad, which was commonplace in 2006, has since become far less popular with HTC recently announcing that it is to drop the feature from its future products. Large touchscreens have become the norm and many of the most successful devices run Android software.
Two years after the Google phone concept, the HTC Dream went on sale and introduced Android to the world. Although initial reviews suggested that the device was perhaps better suited to early adopters and tech experts, the platform was praised for its open source nature and the potential it showed. Android has since gone through a number of iterations and is found across an enormous range of devices and has become the world’s most popular mobile platform. Andy Rubin, Senior Vice President of Mobile at Google has previously said that in December 2011 the company was seeing up to 700 000 Android devices being activated each day.
The emergence of this original Google phone design shows two things. Firstly, that although the company was influenced by what was going on in the mobile world at the time, it was clearly setting its sights on being a pioneering force and, secondly, that Android has come along in leaps and bounds since.