INTERNET giant Google has unveiled a grand plan to break into the mobile phone market by developing 'smart phone' software to take on Microsoft and Nokia.
Its Android system could mean cheaper and more reliable software for the high-tech handsets as well as more services like specialised Internet search facilities and video games.
Google's initiative could also help break the stranglehold on the phone software market held by Microsoft and Symbian - the Android system will be free to anybody that wants it.
The move, which has been hailed by some within the industry but greeted with scepticism by others, is also expected to make it more cost-effective for mobile operators and software developers to create customised products for niche clients.
Companies using Microsoft's software include Motorola, O2 and High Tech Computer. Symbian, which is primarily owned by Nokia, Ericsson, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung, is used in smart phones made by those firms.
Apple's iPhone and Research-In-Motion's BlackBerry devices run on their own in-house software systems.
Google also announced the creation of a consortium of over 30 companies, including Motorola, Samsung, China Mobile and eBay, that will back the Android software.
Google's backing means Android-powered phones will probably be compatible with Google services such as search, e-mail and mapping.
The first phones running Android are expected to be available here in the second half of next year, said Google spokesman Dickson Seow.
Google has also promised to support third-party applications, for example, video games developed by independent production houses. How well it does this will only be known next week when it releases an Android developer kit.
Mr Martin Garner, a spokesman for the London-based high-tech industry research firm Ovum, called the Android announcement 'long on promise, but short on detail'.
For it to work, he said, it will need 'a big market share to make it worthwhile for any of the players'. But he added that Google was a 'remarkable company (and) could possibly make this work'.
Ms Deborah Lee of Singapore-based research firm GfK Asia said Android had a good chance of working in the US, where it has signed on big names like Motorola and Qualcomm. However, she did not expect Android to have a big impact here as the bigger players in Singapore are Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and O2.