Vancouver company building Android-based system for mystery mobile manufacturer

There may soon be a wireless electronic unit in your hand with a maple leaf under the cover.

Vancouver’s Intrinsyc Software Int’l., which builds software solutions for portable devices, said Monday it has an agreement with an unnamed company to develop a “mobile consumer electronics device” running Google’s Android open source operating system.

Until now Intrinsyc’s experience has been with Linux, the Symbian OS and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Embedded CE operating systems. Elizabeth Rosenbaum, the company’s vice-president of corporate marketing, said the deal with a manufacturer that could only be described as a Fortune 500 company would be Intrinsyc’s first with Android. Other than that, she couldn’t say more.

“Unfortunately,” she explained, “because of the agreement, we’re not able to disclose more than what’s in the press release. We’re not allowed to say who the [contracting] company is or what we’ll be doing.”

The release said Intrinsyc will be the systems integrator on the project. There was no target deadline for when the device will be on the market.

Intrinsyc has some 200 staffers in Vancouver, Bejing, Taiwan and Israel. Half of them are in the Vancouver office, Rosenbaum said, with the chief scientists in Israel.

Since Google announced it was getting into the mobile operating system business, Android has been one of the hottest technologies in the mobile industry. At last month’s World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, several chipmakers quietly showed prototypes of phones expected to be in the market by the end of the year.

The first Android-powered phone, HTC’s G1, built for carrier T-Mobile, was revealed last fall. Huawei said it will have one out in the third quarter, but has given no detail about its size or capabilities. Motorola and LG Electronics are also working on Android-powered phones.

Some handset makers – such as Waterloo’s Research in Motion – have handsets built around proprietary operating systems that would be difficult to abandon. However, others looking for any way to cut costs in the ruthlessly competitive handset business, would welcome the opportunity to save money by not having to pay for an operating system.

Motorola, for example, announced last fall it is abandoning the Symbian OS in favour of phones that run Android and Windows Mobile. It hopes to have an Android-based phone in stores by the December holiday period.

The pressure has been enough that Nokia, which owns Symbian, announced last summer that it is turning the OS open source.

Handsets aren’t the only portable devices manufacturers think Android can run on. At least one company is looking at squeezing the OS on to a netbook.

Neil Strother, a mobile analyst with Forrester Research, noted in an interview that despite the industry buzz, few Android handsets have yet to make it to market. “You also need a carrier behind it as well,” he pointed out. “Especially in North America, it helps to have a carrier or you don’t get the marketing behind it.”

Still, Android “is an important platform because of who’s behind it – Google. And HTC is a respected handset manufacturer.”

Created in 1996, Intrinsyc pulled in US$24.7 million in revenue in 2008, thanks in part to the acquisition of Destinator Technologies Inc., a maker of mobile and GPS navigation software for protable devices. However, it also had to write off US$19.3 million from previous acquisitions, plus $US3.8 million in restructuring. Even before these writeoffs, the company lost US$13 million for the calendar year.

In November, chair and CEO Glenda Dorchak stepped down and was replaced by COO Tracey Rees, who holds the title of interim CEO. The company also laid off about 90 people to save cash.

Last month in Barcelona, Intrinsyc announced it has signed deals with Goodkap!, a French GPS services operator, to develop software for personal navigation devices and wireless handsets that deliver location-based aware services, and with LG Electronics to provide Destinator navigation and location-based software for handsets running Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile.

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