Japan's biggest mobile telecom carrier gave its strongest support yet to Google's Android platform on Thursday when it said it is considering a cell phone based on the technology.
"We are starting discussions to offer handsets that will have the Android operating system," said Takeshi Natsuno, managing director of the multimedia services department at NTT DoCoMo.
The talks include getting support for I-mode, DoCoMo's hit mobile internet service, on the Android platform. Nearly 48 million of DoCoMo's 53 million customers subscribe to I-mode, so having it on Android will be key to the Google platform's success in Japan.
Android is a Linux-based platform for phones that will combine open-source components and include an operating system, middleware stack, customisable user interface and applications.
NTT DoCoMo is one of the founding members of the Open Handset Alliance, the group developing Android. Until Thursday it hadn't disclosed what it hoped to gain from its participation in the group, which includes about 40 companies, including some of the biggest names in the cell phone industry.
"When I look at the prototype, the Android-based handset works really well even on some of the cheaper handset designs," said Natsuno.
Natsuno didn't provide any specifics about when such a handset might be available. When the Open Handset Alliance was launched last year Google said that it expected the first phones running the software to appear in late 2008.
Despite its support for Android, NTT DoCoMo is also working with companies developing rival platforms. It has an alliance with Access, a Japanese software company with which is has deep ties, on the Access Linux Platform (ALP). DoCoMo is working on a "carrier pack," a set of unique products and services, that can run on ALP, which is intended to be a common Linux platform for phones.
Natsuno's comments came at a Tokyo news conference held to detail a partnership between the carrier and Google.
The alliance will see Google products and applications added to DoCoMo handsets. These will include the addition of a Google search box on the main I-mode menu page from which users will access websites. Google Ads will appear alongside search results. The two companies said they also planned to bring more Google services, such as Google Maps, to handsets and build in support for Flash video so that users can access and stream content from YouTube.
Google will appear as the default start page on mobile phones that feature browsers for the full internet.
The deal is Google's second in the mobile space in Japan. It already has a deal with second-ranked carrier "au" to which it provides search and advertising services. Number three carrier Softbank Mobile has a link with Yahoo Japan, the portal in which its parent company, Softbank, is the biggest shareholder.