While lauding Apple's iPhone as being innovative in the mobile space, a Google official Thursday later cited disadvantages of the device, which is expected to compete with upcoming Google-backed Android phones.

Speaking at the eComm conference in Mountain View, Calif., Google's Rich Miner, group manager for mobile platforms, discussed the long-standing obstacles to mobile application deployment and how they are being overcome. Apple's iPhone was cited for its innovations.

"[Apple] came out with the iPhone and did a number of things right first time, first device," Miner said. Apple is offering a great user experience and a seamless experience between applications; Google is providing maps for the iPhone, he said.

But after hailing Google's own Android platform as another innovative step in the mobile arena, an audience member raised the question of whether to develop for planned Android phones or for the existing iPhone. The audience member asked how many Android systems would be on the market in a year.

"That's a hard question to answer," Miner said. Four original equipment manufacturers in November announced plans to build Android devices, Miner said. He added he has seen Android prototypes and that the number of OEMs probably has grown. The first Android handset is due in the second half of this year, he said. Android is under the jurisdiction of the Open Handset Alliance, which features Google.

Miner also said he believes there will be a lot of Android phones out in 2009. Then he criticized iPhone.

"There are just certain apps you can't build on an iPhone," he said. For example, an application cannot run in the background when switching to another application, and interpreted languages cannot be supported in applications, he said. Multiprocessing applications also are not supported, he said.

"There's a lot of restrictions," Miner said.

Also during his presentation, Miner stressed the goal of opening up mobile devices to applications. These devices, though, have been inhibited by factors such as small screens and keyboards. There also has been a lack of openness in platforms, networks, and devices, said Miner. For example, a third-party application could be written in Java, but the target phone runs Symbian. "[It] turns out those two worlds don't talk to one another," he said.

The mobile arena also has had to deal with broken business models, such as a confused relationship between OEMs and carriers and having no one who understands the software. Developers also have had little freedom or power.

But problems are being solved, such as good technology and design overcoming UI constraints, said Miner. Touch-based screens represent innovation, for example.

Openness also is starting to emerge, he said. Android, for its part, started on the premise of openness, Miner said. Also, mobile platform control is shifting to software companies, according to Miner.

"Android is a complete platform, not just an OS," and features a software development kit, he said.

In another eComm presentation Thursday, Evan Henshaw-Plath, architect of the Fire Eagle project at Yahoo Brickhouse, discussed the location-based services offered by Fire Eagle.

Location-based services offer the promise of enabling people to put themselves on the map, so to speak, but they have been beset by issues such as people not wanting every application to know their location, Henshaw-Plath said.

Currently available in an invitation-only mode, Fire Eagle is intended to make location-sharing easy, he said. Users control access.

"We take location information in, we geo-code it, and we authorize other applications to get that information," Henshaw-Plath said.

"We hope to launch once we get enough applications built on the platform," he said.