24 January 2008

Will Google's Android Lead to HAL 9000?

Google's Android platform remains something of an unknown quantity: until real-life applications of it start to come through, it is hard to know whether it will be fab or a flop. But in one respect it is clearly a breakthrough, in that its openness allows people to try out new ideas that were difficult or even impossible with closed systems:

Nikita Ivanov and his 14 employees are working on an application that would harness the processing power within millions of cell phones to create one big supercomputer. The idea is to enable companies and government agencies to exploit all the idle computing power in their employees' mobile phones and perhaps even handsets belonging to non-employees who have agreed to lease that spare capacity.

To create this "grid" computing application, Ivanov's startup firm has chosen a mobile software platform that doesn't yet run on a single commercially available phone. Rather than Windows Mobile or the Symbian operating system, GridGain is using Android, a platform spearheaded by Google that has drawn scores of software developers with its promise of flexibility to create unusual applications.

GridGain is one of thousands of Android-based projects in the works. Another would enable users to record and share audio tours of museums or galleries. One is a music player that can connect a cell-phone user with people who have similar musical tastes and happen to be nearby. All underscore the ways that developers hope to use Android to take phones in new directions with greater ease than today's prominent wireless platforms.

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