G1: A Phone With Open Source Cheer

The verdict is still out on what people can do with the G1's open source code.

Dec. 9, 2008— -- T-Mobile's Google phone, the G1, hit the stores in late October, and that's been plenty of time for the G1 versus iPhone debate to play out.

You can read all about the elegance of the iPhone's multi-touch screen, or the convenience of the G1's full keyboard here.

Both phones have a similar price tag: The G1 goes for $179 along with T-Mobile service; the iPhone goes for $199 with an AT&T plan. Both phones act as miniature hand-held computers with Internet access, e-mail, mp3 playing capabilities, games and more.

Still, G1 is heavier and just doesn't have the design edge of Apple. So, perhaps the G1's best hope to stand out against the iPhone was Android, the G1's open source operating system.

Google intentionally posted the code for Android online with the hopes that programmers out there will use it to create software applications (called apps) for their phone.

Anyone is free to look at the code, build an app for the G1 and upload it for a one-time $25 registration fee to the G1 marketplace for Google to review. Google will automatically give G1 owners access to approved software through the Android Marketplace on their phone.

Be ye not afraid to use the open sorcery. It's pretty easy to do: just go to the marketplace icon in the main menu to search by name, popularity or most recent apps. By early December, there are already multitudes of apps out there.

Some fun ones include the barcode scanner, in which shoppers in a store can take a photo of a bar code on an item they like, and the program will look it up on Amazon to price compare or order online.

There are plenty of games in the marketplace, too. One mind-numbingly addictive one is Coloroid, where you try and strategically convert adjacent color shapes until the whole screen is one color. There are also some handy apps that help you organize your text messages or icons.

Keep in mind that anything in the marketplace has been reviewed by Google and is not likely to break your phone or do anything questionable. However, there are more G1 apps beyond the approval of Google that people can upload to their phone -- and these sorts of apps may be a key difference between owning an iPhone and a G1.

Take, for example, Tetherbot. Tetherbot is a way to get Internet access on your computer through the G1's T-Mobile service plan.

It could be quite useful, say, at the airport, if you don't want to pay for wifi but your phone has a good signal. However, the program would not be so popular with Internet providers.

A similar application was written for the iPhone, but was quickly removed from the iPhone app store. Since Android is open source, computer programmers don't necessarily need T-Mobile or Google's cooperation to create an app that will run on the phone.

Not having Google or T-Mobile control what goes on the G1 opens up the opportunity for programs like Tetherbot.

All this seems great in theory, but to be honest, Tetherbot falls short in the same way much open source software does. It's developed by geeks for geeks who have a higher understanding of computers.

If you don't understand how to run programs via command prompts, then forget it. Tetherbot might be too challenging to add to your phone.

Still, the Google phone should not be a geek's dream alone, and it can be accessible for anyone. The more effort one invests in the phone, the more reward one can reap. The G1 has multiple layers of functionality and fun.